The Day That Racing Died

The Day That Racing Died
By John Ker

Kate Courtney, the 2019 World Cup champion, rode to a win in the Pro Women’s Short Track XC on Friday, with Chloe Woodruff taking second. (Photo by Gavin Burke/Team Big Bear)

The year 2020 will go down in our books as the year the coronavirus pulled the plug on racing—and almost everything else, too.

The cycling world reacted quickly to the pandemic. First, the North American Handmade Bike Show was canceled. Then, the Sea Otter was rescheduled. The Cape Epic was canceled, two days before it was supposed to begin. The World Cup Series was affected. The Olympics was moved to 2021.

Pivot Cycle’s On the Edge team from Quebec flew all the way to California to race the event at Vail Lake, then learned it was canceled Saturday night. Vincent Thiboutot, a U23 rider on the team, spent Sunday morning practicing his jumping skills before heading back to Canada. (Photo by John Ker/Mountain Bike Action)

In the midst of all that news, we were still looking forward to the one mountain bike race that was still on the calendar: the Vail Lake UCI race in Temecula, California.

Christopher Blevins rode some practice laps on Sunday morning after that day’s scheduled  UCI Cross-Country race was canceled the night before. (Photo by John Ker/Mountain Bike Action)


The short-track race was on Friday. Our staff had to be in the office that day, but our friend Gavin Burke of Team Big Bear (the race organizers) shot some photos for us.

New Zealand’s Anton Cooper had to fly home without getting to compete in the Vail Lake UCI XC race. He and all the other New Zealanders reportedly had to be quarantined for 2 weeks after they returned home to New Zealand. (Photo by John Ker/Mountain Bike Action)


We drove down to Temecula on Sunday morning to catch the Elite Men’s and Elite Women’s XC races that were scheduled to be held that afternoon. We pulled up to the Vail Lake  park entrance, and the ranger at the gate told us that the race had been canceled.  We thought he must have been mistaken. We had checked the Team Big website that morning, and it said the race was still on. It turned out that Team Big Bear made the announcement via Instagram but hadn’t updated their website. The park ranger let us drive inside to see.

The pits were almost empty at 10:30 AM. Most of the motorhomes, tents and racers were already gone. We saw our friend Chris Mathis, the manager of the Clif Team (formerly the Luna Chix Team and then the Luna Team), and Chis told us what had happened while we helped him pack up his trailer.

Team Big Bear poses for a photo while packing up their gear on Sunday morning at Vail Lake. That’s company head, Tom Spiegel, at far right. Team Big Bear staffer and photographer Gavin Burke is third from the left.  (Photo by John Ker/Mountain Bike Action)

It turned out that USA Cycling had called Team Big Bear Saturday night to tell them that they had to cancel the next day’s race. Team Big Bear started spreading the news that night as fast as they could. Most of the teams learned the news before midnight, we were told.

Chris Mathis of the Clif Team packs up their tent on Sunday morning. (Photo by John Ker/Mountain Bike Action)

By 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, most of the teams were gone. There were some teams from other countries, including Canada and New Zealand, whose rebooked flights let them stay a little while longer. A couple dozen riders decided to get in some riding before they left. We hung around a couple of hours to talk with them and shoot some photos of them. No one knew what would happen in the months ahead. Racing would resume eventually, but as we drove away Sunday afternoon, we had no idea when that would be.


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Clif Teamcross country racingElite Women UCI XCkate courtneyRacingteam big bearUSA CyclingVincent Thiboutot