Normally, the route for RAGBRAI remains a secret until it is revealed at the end of January. But not this year. RABBRAI XLVIII’s route across northern Iowa had been know for a year before the official announcement on Saturday night. That’s because RAGBRAI 2021 is using the route that was announced for last year’s ride, which was canceled due to COVID-19.
There are two small alterations to the route, which starts in Le Mars on July 25 and finishes in Clinton on July 31. The overnight towns of Storm Lake and Maquoketa are being replaced by Sac City and DeWitt.
The two changes will add six miles to the weeklong ride, bringing it to 426 miles. Even with those additional miles, RAGBRAI XLVIII will still have one of the shortest routes in the event’s almost half-century history. The changes will also decrease the total amount of climbing the riders will do as they proceed from the Missouri to the Mississippi by 825 feet. Riders who complete the entire course will gain 11,481 feet of elevation.
— RAGBRAI (@RAGBRAI_IOWA) January 31, 2021
Maquoketa withdrew as an overnight town due previously scheduled construction, and Storm Lake announced in December it would not be participating after the city’s RAGBRAI advisory board, law enforcement and local health and law enforcement officials decided hosting the riders may prove too much for the city.
“While we were excited to be chosen as an overnight stop for 2020, we are facing hurdles in 2021 that include strain on local essential workers, an uncertain time frame for COVID-19 vaccinations, and uncertainty over continued infection rates from the virus,” Storm Lake City Manager Keri Navratil told the Storm Lake Times.
“The city also said that amid the pandemic, concerns exist about being able to secure adequate housing for the thousands of riders who take part in RAGBRAI annually,” the paper reported. “Recruiting local volunteers and fundraising were also noted as challenges in the current environment.”
RAGBRAI organizers are making other changes to facilitate virus mitigation, but at the moment they are largely relying on a successful nationwide vaccination program eliminating COVID-19 as a major health threat for riders and the communities they will be passing through.
“Time is the ride organizers’ biggest friend,” according to the Des Moines Register, RAGBRAI’s parent organization. “Current estimates are that the U.S. should reach a ‘herd immunity’ level of resistance to COVID-19 by summer, provided new President Joe Biden meets his goal of speeding up lagging vaccination rates and a vaccine-resistant strain of the virus doesn’t gain the upper hand.”
Organizers are currently planning to hold a normal-sized ride, with 15,000 to 20,000 riders participating per day. But depending on virus conditions as the July 25 start date draws near, organizers may limit the number of riders or extend the number of hours on a route to allow for greater distance between riders.
Entertainment options along the route may be reduced, and the number of people who can attend concerts in overnight towns may be limited.
“In addition, the site says portable toilet facilities may be expanded; hosted housing in overnight towns may be banned, with only camping and RVs allowed; extra vehicles may be added along the route for rider support; and there may be additional staff and medical support,” the Register reported.
Vendors will have to follow new guidelines. It is possible that riders will either need to test negative for COVID-19 or provide documentation of vaccination, but organizers have not made decisions regarding those steps yet.
Over the last 48 years, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Race Across Iowa has become a premier cycling event, with an international reputation. Some years, it has attracted riders from as many as 19 other countries.
Last year’s cancellation due to COVID-19 was the first time RAGBRAI had skipped a summer since two Register writers, John Karras and Donald Kaul, invited the public to join them on a six-day bicycle ride across the state, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River in 1973.