Sitting at the starting line with his family as other riders packed in on all sides, minutes away from the start of the Three Gap Fifty, Jose Muhina was feeling “a little nervous.”
However it wasn’t because of the crowd or the possibility of being exposed to the coronavirus.
“It’s our first cycling race,” said Muhina, who traveled up from Miami for the event.
With 1,921 registered riders, Dahlonega’s annual Six Gap Century just missed matching its attendance from last year despite the continued concerns from COVID-19.
“The feedback from the participants was great,” Chamber President Robb Nichols said of the event. “We had a lot of people express how happy they were that a ride event happened. The predictions for rain early in the week probably affected registration more than COVID-19 did as it was forecast to rain on Saturday as late as Saturday morning.”
The rain held off, leaving Sunday’s Six Gap riders with no complaints other than the gruelling 104 miles of riding that makes the event so popular.
One of those riders who was just happy that the event was happening was Anthony Murrell of Decatur.
“Just the fact that they’re having it is awesome,” Murrell said. “The Tour de France ended just days ago so it’s fresh in everyone’s mind and they see it can be done...Not a single rider tested positive in three weeks of racing, so it can be done and it can be done safely.”
The Dahlonega-Lumpkin Chamber, who puts on the event each year, made sure to implement several safety measures to limit the potential spread of the coronavirus.
“Our plan to implement a number of precautions against COVID-19 went very well,” Nichols said. “With the support of Principal Billy Kirk and the Lumpkin County High School we were able to utilize the entire high school property and conduct drive-thru registration, which was very well-received. We also replaced “mass quantity” products with all single-serve items. A major hit was replacing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Uncrustables.”
Trace Swartzfager, who came up from Mississippi to participate in his second Six Gap, said he was pleased with the precautions taken and that he was not worried.
“I’ve already had coronavirus, so I already have the antibodies,” Swartzfager said. “But no, it’s felt really safe so far.”
Perhaps the biggest change was to the format of the race, as riders were given a rolling start window of 30 minutes after each race began, allowing participants to avoid the crowded start line without affecting their time. All riders who chose to start in the mass start were required to wear a mask.
That wasn’t a problem for Murrell, who cited Tom Hanks’ philosophy on mask wearing.
“...Wearing a mask is the least you can do in this fight,” Murrell said. “So if we have to wear a mask in the start, so be it. It’s not that difficult, it’s fine, I don’t mind. I’m sitting here just chilling and once we start riding I’ll take it off and put it in my pocket. It’s simple.”
Nichols said without the around 400 volunteers that help out with the event, Six Gap couldn’t happen.
“What makes this ride very successful every year is the number of volunteers that help,” he said. “More than anything we receive comments from the riders on how helpful and friendly all of the volunteers are from those that sort and pack food, to working registration and merchandise tables, to the different organizations that operate the rest stops.”