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Russell Finsterwald races down Templeton Trail during the ProCycling Palmer Park 50 race Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011, at Palmer Park. The local champion racer is expected to race the first Pikes Peak Apex in September 2020. Christian Murdock/The Gazette)

It was just last fall when Micah Rice took to a podium at USA Cycling to announce "the largest mountain bike race Colorado Springs has ever seen."

That feels like forever ago to him.

"Boy," he remarked in a recent interview, "we picked a heck of a year to start a brand-new, national-level event."

But while most premier cycling races in Colorado and beyond have been canceled or rescheduled due to the global pandemic, the Pikes Peak Apex is still on for Sept. 24-27.

Organizing the endurance challenge after a decade of coordinating national championships for USA Cycling, Rice said the Apex is taking a similar stance as the Pikes Peak Marathon, the famed foot race slated for Aug. 23. In June, that race's director, Ron Ilgen, announced revised plans for runners that he said were made in conjunction with El Paso County Public Health.

A detailed plan involving local health officials also has been in the works for the Apex, Rice said. He said he's collaborating with Dr. Michael Roshon, chief of medical staff for Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and USA Cycling's chief medical officer.

A medical "compliance officer" is one recommendation in comprehensive guidelines released last month by a national cycling event task force, which includes professionals in the Springs.

The Apex "falls right in the middle (in terms of size), which I think is the most difficult place to be in," said Steve Brunner, the task force's chair and president of Springs-based marketing firm KOM Sports. "You cap it at 300, it's big enough to be big and small enough to be small. It really puts it in that gray zone." 

The plan for up to 300 racers would have to be approved by officials; guidance has listed maximum outdoor gatherings of 250. But the Apex would not "overwhelm" the Springs like bigger races in smaller towns, Rice said.

Though, the question must be asked amid the virus's rising hot spots in the nation, Brunner said: "Where are those people coming from?" And how many friends and family would be coming along? 

Rice expects between 100 and 150 riders from out of state. "There are more people from out of state than that hanging out in town today," he said.

In a change from the initial mass takeoff envisioned for each race, individuals and small groups are planned at the starting lines. That's "a positive," said Brunner, who has known Rice for years. Brunner counted another positive in the nature of the race, with participants spread across the mountains, where fans would likely not gather.

But any number of scenarios must be accounted for, he said, such as an asymptomatic volunteer handing out a water bottle.

More than ever, Brunner said, race organizers have social responsibilities. And Rice "will have to do some soul-searching," Brunner said.

The Apex has turned eyes with an inaugural $50,000 prize purse, built with the help of national sponsors, including local manufacturer RockShox. The Apex has also received more financial backing from the city than any previous mountain bike race — $85,000 from the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax fund.

A prologue is scheduled in Palmer Park, before 40- to 50-mile courses on Rampart Range Road and around North Cheyenne Cañon and the Air Force Academy.

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