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Updated travel restrictions and worsening global health conditions are raising new doubts about the fate of the Tokyo Olympic Games, which were canceled last summer due to the coronavirus pandemic and rescheduled to run from July 23 to August 8.
A flurry of media reports Wednesday suggest that a possible 14-day quarantine for Olympic athletes could imperil riders hoping to race the Tour de France and the Olympic Games next season.
Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws reported that the International Olympic Committee has agreed to a two-week pre-Games quarantine for all Olympic athletes. Multiple sources told VeloNews this latest development has not been officially confirmed, and there was no official comment from IOC or Japanese Olympic officials Wednesday.
Sources told VeloNews that current rules would allow riders who clear health controls to race the Tour ahead of the rescheduled Olympic Games, with the men’s road race coming less than a week after the Tour concludes in Paris.
The conflicting reports reveal a new wave of uncertainty ahead of the 2021 racing season and the all-important Olympic Games.
Media reports in Japan overnight say that a special travel exemption for Olympic-level athletes will also be lifted as part of a new ban on international travelers from entering Japan through at least the end of January.
The specter of fear over a new strain of coronavirus emanating from the United Kingdom, coupled with rising global infection rates, could see tighter restrictions for Japan extended into the coming months.
The evolving health situation and the possibility of pre-Games quarantines is creating a new wave of doubt and uncertainty for Olympic-bound cyclists.
In November, both Japanese and IOC officials assured there would be no pre-Games quarantine for athletes who clear COVID-19 screenings before entering the country. Olympic officials plan to introduce a strict Tour de France-styled “bubble” for athletes, coaches, and other support staff, as well as regularly testing everyone inside the Olympic village for possible infection before and during competition.
If a pre-competition quarantine were required, it would be all but impossible for riders to race the Tour — June 26 to July 18 — and compete in the elite men’s road race on July 24. There would be similar problems for riders looking to complete the Giro Rosa, finishing July 11, before challenging in the women’s road race on July 25.
Sources told VeloNews that a two-week quarantine for elite athletes would be far from ideal before international competition, adding that all Olympic-level athletes will already be in a controlled “bubble” weeks before traveling to Japan to compete and that competing nations will have a rigorous COVID-testing program in place in coordination with IOC and Japanese officials.
Sources also told VeloNews that due to health concerns that IOC officials have asked that athletes only to arrive in Japan five days before competition, and leave within 48 hours after competing.
Media reports in Belgium, however, suggest that the IOC is poised to impose pre-Games quarantines. It’s unclear if a pre-Games quarantine would be a hard lockdown or perhaps allow some physical activity within a confined area.
The ambiguity will throw a wrench in plans for riders who are mapping out their respective 2021 racing calendars. Stars such as defending elite men’s gold medalist Greg Van Avermaet and Dutch multi-discipline star Mathieu van der Poel have both said they plan on racing the Tour before heading to Japan.
Beyond the Olympic uncertainty, worsening health conditions are already reaching into the 2021 racing season.
WorldTour openers in Australia are already off the calendar, with the Santos Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race either canceled or reduced to regional pro-am events. Colombia Tour 2.1 is also canceled, while media reports overnight suggest that the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina will not feature international teams.
European races, however, are seeing record interest in their events in Spain, France, and Portugal as teams and cyclists expect to stay within European boundaries throughout much of the 2021 racing season.
There is also growing hope that a number of new vaccines will help ease pandemic conditions by the start of the Olympic Games and the road season’s most important dates.