Culture

How has COVID-19 changed cycling the most?

There have been scores of adaptations. What has been the most impactful?

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Andrew Hood | European Editor

If the coronavirus changed anything about racing, it’s how the peloton looks before and after the race. Thankfully, the “during” has largely remained unchanged. It’s everything from the start villages to the sign-in ceremony, the after-race podium protocols and how close fans and media can get that’s changed. And until there is a proven treatment for COVID-19, it’s likely to stay this way for a while.

At the Vuelta a Burgos, fans were required to wear face masks and apply hand sanitizer before being allowed into a fenced-off area at the start. At Strade Bianche, officials went even further, and closed off Siena’s emblematic central square Piazza del Campo to any fans at all.

The team bus area, which is usually packed with fans and media trying to get a glimpse of their racing heroes, will be completely sealed off. Fans will see limited access to climbs, and the publicity caravan will be halved.

A whole myriad of health controls introduced by teams assure that riders are monitored 24 hours a day for symptoms. Temperatures are taken before each race, and riders head to the start line wearing masks.

It’s all part of cycling’s new reality: mask up to race up. At least once the race is on, the masks can be taken off.

betsy welchBetsy Welch | Senior Editor

Do professional bike racers actually love riding their bikes? Falling out of love with something is always a risk when passion becomes a profession. However, when racing shut down in early March, most cyclists took the time to revisit their relationship with the bike — or at least work on their weaknesses to become better partners. Thus, what changed was simply the way in which pro riders rode.

Mountain biker Erin Huck pushed herself on the downhills and technical singletrack and signed up for a 100-mile race with over 12,000 feet of climbing. National champion Ruth Winder went Everesting — and hated it — but she also rode her bike hundreds of miles around Boulder delivering home-baked goodies to friends. Tayler Wiles plotted out a do-it-yourself version of the Belgian Waffle Ride gravel race. Katie Hall, Alison Tetrick, Coryn Rivera, and Katie Keough took a bikepacking tour of the California coast (yes, they stopped at wineries).

At times anxious, at times eager for racing to begin again, and at times unmotivated to train, these bike racers never fell out of love with riding their bikes.

Fred Dreier | Editor-in-Chief

A year ago I wrote about Zwift’s ambitions to someday organize professional virtual races for stars of the Tour de France. At the time I thought Zwift’s officials were indulging a wild pipe dream. What would convince WorldTour pros to race invisible miles on the video game platform when they could race outdoors?

The answer to this question turned out to be a global pandemic. For several months this spring, the world’s best riders battled each other on Zwift and Rouvy, because all of the outdoor pro races were canceled due to the coronavirus. Fans followed along at home. Media outlets like VeloNews.com published results of the events. Over the course of a few short months, virtual racing became a thing. In my estimation, the COVID-19 pandemic advanced the goals of Zwift and other virtual cycling companies by a decade or more.

Does this mean that someday soon Chris Froome and Peter Sagan will abandon the Tour de France and instead race the Zwift global championships? No, of course not. But Zwift’s pipe dream of being taken seriously as a racing platform has become reality.