Cottage Grove filled with bicycle riders once again on June 5 for the annual Gran Fondo event put on by Mudslinger Events.
Country roads were lined with more than 270 riders on Saturday, some on a leisurely cruise and others on a serious mission to break records.
The turnout reflected a return to 2019 numbers when around 250 riders showed up for the event. That was trimmed down to about 90 last year due to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions.
Last year’s race also staggered riders out one at a time, employing computer chip technology to socially distance and have individual starts and finishes for each rider.
Not so this year as Main Street hosted clusters of brightly-colored racers at the starting line.
Participants had a choice between differently-sized courses that stretched west out of Cottage Grove and past Territorial Highway before looping back to the finish line on Cottage Grove – Lorane Road.
At 130 miles, the Adventure Route offered a mixed surface including 16 miles of gravel sections. At its farthest point, it brought riders just shy of the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness, putting its halfway mark closer to Reedsport than Cottage Grove.
The main event, the Gran Fondo, took racers on a 117-mile loop through the same countryside as the Adventure Route, hugging the Smith River for much of the way.
The 71-mile Medio followed much of the Gran Fondo’s route, turning riders back on a loop at Elk Creek.
A 25-mile Mini Gravel Untimed was also on the menu for new or social riders.
Though last year’s Gran Fondo took extra precautions to distance racers due to coronavirus concerns, racers at the starting line on Saturday were largely without masks and represented what Mudslinger owner and race organizer Mike Ripley felt was a kind of “return to normal”.
He added that Mudslinger has held 14 events since 2020 and has had no reported COVID cases.
“Outdoor activities are safe in general and racing and running events are safe as long as necessary precautions are taken,” states the Mudslinger website.
The Centers for Disease Control has stated that although socializing outdoors is considerably safer, they recommend wearing a mask if six feet of distance can’t be maintained. Fully vaccinated people are no longer recommended to wear a mask outdoors, except in certain crowded settings and venues.
Mudslinger — a business based out of Monroe, Ore. — also provided each participant with a $10 voucher to be used after the race at participating local restaurants.
That money that will ultimately be paid back to the businesses by Mudslinger as they turn in their vouchers to the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce.
CEO/President of the Chamber of Commerce Shauna Neigh said that vouchers have started to trickle in and a total of $2,840 will have gone into local businesses if all the vouchers are used.
Downtown was bustling following the event, with riders and locals alike using eateries and browsing the Farmers Market.
“It’s so nice to be able to see so many people on the street again,” said Neigh. “The Gran Fondo brings in people from all over.”
She said in her interactions with race participants, everyone was impressed with Cottage Grove and the “feel” of the town.
“I heard several say this would be a place they would want to live,” she said.
Ripley also said participants have been effusive in their praise for the event in Cottage Grove.
“They just love Cottage Grove. They love the Oregon Gran Fondo,” he said. “And they feel the community. Our tribe is pretty tight, so they just love two wheels, good roads and smiles.”
Moses Keener, a participant from Salem, came in first in the Medio race at a time of 2:57:50, beating second place Ryan Entz by just one second.
“It was phenomenal,” said Keener of the event. “We didn’t really know what to expect being I’ve never been down here but I was pleasantly surprised with amazing roads, amazing people, amazing promoters and great businesses at the end.”
After finishing his first road win, Keener said he stopped by Axe and Fiddle to use his voucher, putting a pleasant finishing touch on the day.
For this year’s event, the top three women racers in the Gran Fondo were Maeghan Easler [4:59:52], Cari St. Aubin [5:58:49] and Evelyn Boling [5:58:50]. In the men’s category, the top racers were Zhaolong Wu [4:55:56], Jade Rohde [4:56:11] and David Kuhns [4:56:14].
In the Medio race, the top three women were Andrea Baker [3:25:39], Renee Albertson [3:43:12] and Nicole Johnson [3:54:11]. For men, top racers were Moses Keener [2:57:50], Ryan Entz [2:57:51] and Matt Mallet [2:57:54].
On the Adventure Route, there were only two female participants, Amy VanTassel [8:00:33] and Carol Aron [9:26:52]. Among men, Benjamin Brainard [6:17:36] came in first, followed by Christopher Bagg [6:42:19] and Anthony Langford [7:05:51].
Ripely said he’s looking forward to return to Cottage Grove for next year’s event when COVID restrictions will allow for more socializing and experiencing of the town.
“We can’t wait till June 4 of 2022 to do the full party,” he said.
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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