Following True Grit Epic, race participants question organizers’ decision to hold event

Rider stands by his bike on the muddy section of the trail, Santa Clara, Utah, March 14, 2020 | Photo courtesy of True Grit Epic Facebook page, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The 10th annual True Grit Epic 3 Day Mountain/Gravel Stage Race took place over three days last weekend in Santa Clara. Following the event, many participants expressed complaints about weather conditions and current coronavirus concerns and questioned whether it was the right decision to move forward.

Kyle McFarland, a cycling coach from Salt Lake City, told St. George News that this would have been his first time racing in this event, but due to the weather and trail conditions on Saturday, he pulled out after about 3 miles.

“It was just chaos. There was probably – from what I could see – about 50 to 75 riders that were just sliding downhill or couldn’t move their bikes or had broken chains on their bikes,” McFarland said. “I just thought it was super irresponsible to continue at that point.”

As a coach, McFarland said it’s important to him to try to instill in his athletes – especially his junior athletes – that riding on wet trails is socially irresponsible to the cycling community because of the amount of damage and how long it takes for the trail builders to repair it.

Of additional concern was the fact that President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday in response to the new coronavirus, COVID-19. McFarland said he didn’t really hear anyone talking about COVID-19 and its severity at the time, adding that it didn’t really hit home until after the race. However, he said it was still something that race organizers should have considered.

Rider stands by his bike on the muddy section of the trail, Santa Clara, Utah, March 14, 2020 | Photo courtesy of True Grit Epic Facebook page, St. George News

“I think COVID-19 and the weather were two super compelling things that should have led to a cancellation,” he said. “I really don’t envy the race director’s position they’re put in, because it’s a lot of money and a lot of people come out. I can understand why they didn’t (cancel), but I think in hindsight, they definitely should have.”

Cimarron Chacon, the president of Gro Promotions, which organizes this and other local mountain bike race events, told St. George News that initially, there were about 1,000 people who registered for the event on Saturday.

“Almost everyone who raced, raced Thursday because it was beautiful,” Chacon said. “We had 112 people who raced in the gravel event on Friday and about 650 who raced on Saturday.”

Chacon said that on Saturday the conditions in Cove Wash, which is a dry wash and a jeep road, were muddier than organizers expected. This was due to the blue clay, which has unpredictable behavior. It was already starting to dry out from recent precipitation, but as riders rode over the blue clay, it squeezed the water up and created some muddy conditions for people.

“But after they got through that quarter of a mile of wash, the actual course trails were perfect. They were in perfect condition,” she said. “They were actually really beautiful.”

In order to assess the trails, Chacon said there were people sent out each morning.

“We coordinate with the BLM and other officials,” she said. “And they all gave us the thumbs up, and they were accurate. Everybody who made it to the single track had a great time.”

The event had already begun when Chacon heard that Trump had declared the national emergency, which included, at that point, recommendations of limiting gatherings of people to 100 or fewer. However, the recommendations weren’t set to go into effect until Monday, after the race was over.

“Certainly strange times,” she said. “We were just having our first racers finish when we heard, and we defaulted to our permit holders.”

Rider at the True Grit Epic event, location unspecified, circa March 2020 | Photo courtesy of True Grit Epic Facebook page, St. George News

Chacon said part of the decision to still have the race had to do the people in the race not being part of the high-risk community for the coronavirus. She referred to mountain biking as “an outdoor activity with healthy people.”

“It’s also an activity that doesn’t have a lot of close human contact, because you’re out there with nature one-on-one.”

Extra health precautions were implemented at the feed zones, she said, such as wearing gloves and reminding people to use tongs or paper cups and to not touch the food directly.

However, previous to the emergency declaration, due to both the weather and the coronavirus pandemic, there were many people who chose not to attend the event or who were asked not to come if they knew of an exposure within a company. Several cancellations came from Washington state and the East Coast, and many of the cancellations came last minute.

One of these riders, Dan McAllister, drove all the way from northern Montana to compete but opted out at the last minute.

McAllister said he went and rode the course on Monday, and there were only a couple sections that showed any damage. He said it looked like it could be easily fixed with a half day of trail maintenance. His reasons for not doing the event was a combination of things.

“I just didn’t want to contribute to any damage given the conditions, and also I didn’t think we should be holding a mass event given the COVID-19 virus,” he said. “It’s a great race, but I felt they were pushing a bit too hard to make it happen. Like I had said, I spent thousands of dollars and drove 1,000 miles to race, but when things don’t feel right, I decided to take what I felt was the morally right decision for me.”

The European travel ban also had an impact on the event, specifically related to being able to post results. One of the main timing officials with Lapio Race Management and Timing Solutions, a man who flew to St. George from Denmark, found out Thursday morning about certain travel bans that were going to hinder his ability to get home.

“He made it out of the country at 11 p.m., and they were ceasing flights at midnight,” Chacon said. “He’s been traveling for five days. He’s actually riding his bike from Spain to France because they’ve halted internet service in rural areas in Spain, so it’s affecting a lot of other aspects of the event.”

As of Monday, he still hadn’t made it home.

As to the weather, Chacon called it “quite interesting.”

“We had to roll with delays,” she said. “We had to shift people for safety on Friday, but it ended up being an amazing race on Friday for those who were able to make it.”

Kathy Judson stands after winning the Gravel Master for the ladies division, location not specified, March 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of True Grit Epic Facebook page, St. George News

The race on Friday was shortened from 84 miles to 52 miles, and extra support was there for the people who wanted to ride in the rain. No mechanical failures or injuries were reported, she said.

Chacon said the event has a huge impact on the community and economy, with many arriving early to train, “but also people taking extra time to be here and enjoy our beautiful scenery and our good conditions in the spring.”

Chacon said she was approached by some people after the race who wanted to apologize for the negativity on Facebook.

“A lot of people who originally started saying negative reactions on Saturday morning apologized to me that they were wrong – that the trails were in good condition and the race was a good event.”

Outdoor Recreation Planner for the Bureau of Land Management Kyle Voyles told St. George News that he and David Kiel, also an outdoor recreation planner, were out on the Bearclaw Poppy Trail, which is the one people were the most concerned about, from early morning on Saturday throughout the day.

“Believe it or not – it even surprised us – the trail did exceedingly well. It’s actually in better shape now than it was before the event,” he said. “The moisture drained really quick. It held up really well.”

The single track trails over in Santa Clara did well as they were designed to do, he said.

Rider on the trail for the True Grit Epic event, location unspecified, March 14, 2020 | Photo courtesy of True Grit Epic Facebook page, St. George News

“There was a very long muddy section, and the mud was pretty much completely contained to the two-track road sections of the course. It was not the single-track.”

The one single-track trail that did get muddy was over in the Green Valley section, he said, and that was created by Chacon specifically for this event. Voyles said that section of trail is on private property, where it’s going to be demolished and taken out by the subdivision anyway.

“There was a lot of hearsay asking why we were holding this event and why we were destroying our single-track trails,” he said, adding that part of the stipulations of the event permit is an agreement on Chacon’s part to rehabilitate any damaged trails after the race.

“It’s not a free for all like some people think,” Voyles said.

As far as this event, there was no damage to the trails, he said.

“In my personal opinion, it was quite impressive to see people finish it,” he said. “It is an epic course. They hold tough, and they finish it.”

As far as future events, Voyles said all gatherings and events held on BLM land have been postponed or canceled this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some of the major events include:

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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