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Vail whitewater races among first sporting events in state following pandemic

Gus Leblanc, of Edwards, competes in the stand-up paddleboard competition on Gore Creek June 2 as part of the 2020 Vail Whitewater Race Series.
Special to the Daily

It might not be the GoPro Mountain Games, but competitive whitewater events are underway in Vail Village once again.

The Vail Recreation District’s annual Vail Whitewater Race Series began on June 2, around the time it would normally end, and will follow an abbreviated format with just three races instead of five.

Nevertheless, said organizer Beth Pappas, it’s a big step forward for our area. Pappas said last week’s whitewater races were among the first competitive sporting events in the state to take place following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“From an emotional standpoint, in the community, it felt so good,” Pappas said. “Everyone was so happy to be there.”

Competition slots full

With restrictions in place, the number of spots available to competitors was limited to 30 people.

Gus Leblanc, 20, said he feels lucky to have been accepted into the first and third races in the series. With the weather for Tuesday’s second race in the series looking bad (there’s snow in the forecast), Leblanc says it’s looking like the right race to miss.

Nevertheless, he’d like to be there.

“It felt good to get back in a competitive environment again and get the blood pumping,” he said. “I hadn’t felt that in a long time.”

With social distancing requirements in place, series organizers decided to forgo the two-person raft competition, in which many people share a few rafts and compete in close quarters.

“We changed the format to two time trials, and their combined time is their result,” Pappas said.

That way, kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders won’t be breathing down each other’s necks in head-to-head competition.

Tuesdays through June 16

They also eliminated the series-overall title, to discourage a scenario where a series overall leader is winning after the first two, develops a dry cough and slightly elevated temperature heading into race three, but can’t bring himself to drop out of the race with that overall title on the line.

“If people are feeling sick, we want them to stay home,” Pappas said. “We could see where a series overall title could discourage that.”

And that goes for spectators, as well. But with multiple viewing zones on both sides of the Covered Bridge and the International Bridge, the event can withstand a decent amount of spectators.

“Everybody was doing a great job sticking to their own family pods,” Pappas said.

The Tuesday, June 9 kayak races are scheduled to start at 5:15 p.m., and the stand-up paddleboard races are scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. The series will wrap up on June 16.


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