Get on your bikes and ride!

Around 90 riders set out from downtown Cottage Grove last Saturday to take part in the Oregon Gran Fondo. Staggered start times were set to provide ample social distancing for participants. PHOTO BY NICK SNYDER/CG SENTINEL

Though some residents may have missed it due to ample safety measures in place, there was an honest to goodness, real life sporting event in Cottage Grove last weekend.

On Saturday, Jul. 25 Cottage Grove hosted the Oregon Gran Fondo, an annual summer cycling event put on by Mudslinger Events.

Participants had a choice between a 25-, 71- or 117-mile course that stretched west out of Cottage Grove before looping back to the finish line downtown. While numbers were unsurprisingly down from previous years, around 90 total riders took part in the event and city manager Richard Meyers was effusive in his praise for Mike Ripley — race organizer and owner of Mudslinger Events —  and the efforts made to make the event as safe as possible.

“The plan and safety protocols that Mudslinger put together are a model for other events,” Meyers said after the race. “[Mike] went well above what needed to be done and followed all of the guidelines. The cyclists did as well.”

Indeed, the event looked quite different this year compared to previous iterations. The Gran Fondo typically sees around 300 riders sign up and, in the past, has shut down parts of Main Street in order to set up a festive finish line that includes participation from many area businesses.

This year, however, Ripley and the rest of the Mudslinger team needed to create a mitigation plan to make sure the event was conducted safely under the threat of COVID-19. With the help of the City of Cottage Grove, South Lane Fire, Cottage Grove Police, Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce and others, the plan was ultimately realized.

“We were just staging for a bike ride and that’s the best way to look at it,” Ripley said. “We were focused on the competition because if you employ technology, you can socially distance and have an individual start and an individual finish and as long as you have enough space when you’re taking off, then everything works out well.”

With staggered start times throughout the morning and computer chips for each participant that allow remote recording of results, the event — which some may view as an unnecessary risk in the time of social distancing — was at times barely noticeable as a mass gathering last weekend.

“The most we had [at one time] was maybe four participants downtown that were in that line picking up their stuff, putting their chips on their bike then rolling to the edge of town to take off,” Ripley said.

“The thing about recreation and organized events is we have the opportunity to guide people towards successful recreation versus normal times when people are just out and about everywhere. We’re allowed to put special rules in place.”

Ultimately, like so many events that call Cottage Grove home, the Gran Fondo ticked more than one box in its efforts to bring the community together, giving people a suddenly rare opportunity to participate in group recreation while also supporting local small businesses that continue to navigate the financial stresses of coronavirus shutdowns.

“You could go out and ride by yourself or get together with a friend,” Ripley said, “but [with an organized event] you get to have a shared experience and that’s what makes our community really valuable is when people can have those shared experiences … it brings people together and when everyone is responsible and you play by the rules, then you can have good outcomes.”

Ripley and Mudslinger — a small local business themselves, based out of Monroe, Ore. — also provided each participant with a $10 voucher to be used after the race at one of five participating local restaurants and, as a testament to Mudslinger’s devotion to healthy lifestyles and community involvement, it is money that will ultimately be paid back to the eateries.

“We weren’t even really promoting the event,” Ripley said. “It was more like, ‘Hey, can we have what we would consider the most normal day possible in 2020 and provide some kind of opportunity for people to recreate?’”

“I really want to focus on wellness moving forward and healthy outcomes for people … The overall thing is to kind of look beyond the pandemic because while it’s affecting a ton of people, there’s a really big message that has to come for the wellness industry and not just the disease care industry. I used to see commercials on TV about the food groups, eating better, exercise, and you don’t see anything [nowadays].”

For full race results and more information about the Oregon Gran Fondo and Mudslinger Events visit https://www.mudslingerevents.com/oregon-gran-fondo.

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