The director of BC Superweek is optimistic the series of 10 professional bike races in nine days will be back barnstorming across Metro Vancouver again next summer. And the popular PoCo Grand Prix hopes to be one of the stops.
But the toll exacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is still undetermined, said Mark Ernsting.
With the North American racing scene stilled most of last year by the public health crisis, riders have been challenged to keep up their training without the barometer of competition, while teams, sponsors and host communities deal with the pandemic’s financial consequences.
“We’re keeping a close eye on the current environment,” Ernsting said, adding local organizing committees will begin planning this month.
Ernsting said early discussions with sponsors have been promising.
“They fully understand the value of bringing high-performance events to the community, from a show perspective and also as an inspiration for youth.”
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West said public health considerations will be foremost in any decision about the race in his city.
“We’re obviously carefully monitoring all the COVID health updates,” he told the Tri-City News. “Things change quickly, so we won’t cancel events until we pass the point of no-return.”
Ernsting said he was encouraged to see the European scene come back to life after a hiatus of several months through the spring and early summer. Races large and small, like the Tour de France and Tour of Flanders occurred again in the late summer and fall, often with modifications like banning spectators at congested start and finish areas to ensure the safety of riders, officials and spectators. But other races, like the famed Paris-Roubaix, had to be cancelled after officials declared local emergencies because of rising infection rates.
Ernsting said Superweek’s long history — with some races more than 40 years old — gives the series currency that keeps racers, spectators and sponsors coming back, even after adversity. The Gastown Grand Prix was off the schedule for eight years but has rebounded to become one of Canada’s most prestigious races that draws tens of thousands of fans to line the barriers along the Vancouver course.
The four-year-old PoCo Grand Prix has also been a big hit, attracting large crowds into the city’s downtown to watch the action and enjoy the festival atmosphere that includes beer gardens and live entertainment.
West said the city was keen to renew its five-year contract to host the Grand Prix. But its cancellation kicked that decision down the road another year.
West said Port Coquitlam will also have to consider the financial realities of hosting the race, as the public health crisis has had an impact on every facet of its budget.
“We’re taking a very pragmatic and reasonable approach,” he said. “The first priority is to maintain our core services that residents depend on.”
Ernsting said he’s hopeful communities like Port Coquitlam will see benefits beyond the bottom line.
“Cycling brings a lot of value to the community because of connectivity,” he said.
If nothing else, resuming the races next summer will be a welcome indication that life is returning to normal. West added, and residents will be eager to take full advantage of city festivals and events once the crisis has passed.
“When COVID first hit, everyone thought we’ve got to get through this for a couple of weeks, and then we can return to business as usual,” he said. “As it’s continued to drag on, you are hearing from people this pent-up desire to interact again.”