KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Alright Knoxville, it’s time to check the air in the tires, grease up the chain, and check the gears: The country’s top cyclists are coming back.
After taking a forced year off in-person events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the battle for the USA’s Stars and Stripes jersey returns to Knoxville on June 17th. The event is set to showcase some of the country’s top riders for the first time in almost two years.
“This will be the first time in over a year we’re going to have our top riders head to head,” says USA Cycling Chief of Racing & Events Chuck Hodge. “We’re going to see who trained and who didn’t over the last year.”
While it’s expected the riders will come in ready to compete, getting the event ready for the cyclists and fans is a little different than in years past. Not only will planners have the usual checklist that comes with putting on such a huge event, but they must also factor in the pandemic.
As a matter of fact, Hodge tells WATE, “We’re meeting with the teams and athletes. We are going to be doing testing or have the athletes tested along with staff members. All of our staff coming in will be tested. Anyone having any interaction.”
Testing is just the start. As conditions change, organizers have to evaluate the overall event plan daily.
“We have to remain extremely fluid,” says Visit Knoxville’s Kim Bumpas. “In fact, it’s hard to make decisions right now about a June event because everything is evolving so fast with all of the vaccine rollout.”
“Everyone needs a little bit different protocol,” adds Hodge. “This impacts multiple areas. We obviously have the competition factors, the athletes and staff we are worried about protecting, but we have within the competition fans and the VIP’s.”
Speaking of the fans, what can you expect come race day?
While we know plans are continuously evolving, Bumpas tells WATE there are some things we do know.
“We won’t really have a huge VIP area like people are used to seeing in the past, it’s going to be much more condensed. We’re not selling tickets, there will not be a beer garden. We are really trying to limit where people bottle up, and really get them to spread out along the course and just watch the races.”
“We are working with Visit Knoxville, and there will be some ask of the community,” says Hodge. “We want them to enjoy the event. Knoxville has been fantastic, but we also want to make sure we are protecting our athletes who are going to be going on to national and international competition. I don’t think anyone wants to see an athlete get sick.”
Keeping the cyclists safe will be key. As, while not confirmed at the time of this interview, there is a good chance members of the USA Olympic Cycling team will be on the course in Knoxville.
“We are actually going to be announcing our Olympic Road Team just before this event,” Hodge tells WATE 6 On Your Side. “We’re not making promises right now based on competition schedules, but there is a chance we could see several Olympians competing in Knoxville. So I think it would be a pretty cool thing, next stop Tokyo after this event!”