Merced County Times Newspaper
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Cycling event canceled after storms damage rural gravel route 

 

Merced is going to have to wait a little longer for the next major cycling event to come to town.

The much-anticipated Hincapie Gran Fondo gravel bike race, originally scheduled for March 18, has been postponed until 2024, according to organizers. Recent storms and flooding in Merced County have made the course unsafe for participants, they say.

“It is our responsibility to ensure the safety of not just our riders, but our supporting emergency service personnel and volunteers who help make our events possible,” an official press release from the Hincapie organization stated. “We stand with Merced and the surrounding affected communities as they work to rebuild and recover.”

Doug Fluetsch, the local organizer who is helping to bring the Gran Fondo to Merced, said he had a chance to drive the course with some of the Hincapie officials and they discovered several sections of the course were not passable, and many other sections would force riders to dismount and hike a fair amount.

“It creates a safety concern with the access of emergency vehicles,” Fluetsch said. “Unfortunately there isn’t another option.”

He added, “It’s disappointing, but the postponement is small in comparison to the many families, farms and businesses that have lost so much. I am glad the city, and all of the sponsors, have been supportive with this decision, and it proves everyone is in this for the right reasons.”

The Hincapie Gran Fondo is billed as “the ultimate cycling experience” that includes a multi-day cycling celebration with carefully-planned scenic routes, music performances, dinner parties, and a free family-oriented festival. It started in 2012 in Greenville, SC, by the Hincapie family, including cycling racing giant George Hincapie himself. Today the annual event has grown to include Bangor, ME; Lehigh Valley, PA; Chattanooga,TN; and now the fifth location, Merced.

For the Merced event, now scheduled for next spring, the Hincapie team is promising cycling participants “a true gravel cycling experience” that begins and ends in Merced, but stretches through open grasslands and up the foothills beyond Hornitos to the Bear Valley area.

The event is expected to be an economic boost for the Merced area, as well as a highly-regarded sporting event.

For more than 20 years, Merced was on the cycling world map thanks to events such as the annual MERCO Cycling Classic. There was also a Tour of California stage that started in downtown Merced back in 2009. However, the Cycling Classic ended years ago, and the chance of a future Tour of California stop is unlikely because the statewide event has been on hiatus since the pandemic started.

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