After racing’s unprecedented, three-month COVID-19 pause, the peloton is starting to hear the whir of the wheels again. Teams across the men’s and women’s pelotons are hosting training camps and putting their respective athletes on the pathway toward a return to competition little more than a month away.
And despite a string of cancellations across Europe, any of the calendar’s “survivors” can expect to see equally unprecedented participation. Races that either remain on the calendar in their original dates or events that have been rescheduled as part of the UCI’s calendar makeover are seeing start lists of unparalleled quality.
Spain’s Vuelta a Burgos, a five-day race set to run July 28 to August 1, is the fast becoming the epicenter of the sport’s revival in Europe. Although some racing has already begun, including the Slovenian national championships over the weekend, the five-day Burgos tour could see more than a dozen men’s WorldTour teams converge in northern Spain at the end of July.
As reported last month on VeloNews, teams confirmed for Burgos include Team Ineos, Jumbo-Visma, Astana, Movistar, Bora-Hansgrohe, Cofidis, Mitchelton-Scott — assuming there are no more issues of the team’s future — and a host of ProTour and Continental teams will line up.
“It’s great to see Vuelta Burgos will be going ahead,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “We will now wait for UCI/team and Spanish health protocols to be finalized before we lock in more concrete plans. After a four-month break from racing, everybody involved can’t wait to get season 2020 V2 (version 2.0) back on the road.”
Burgos, front and center on the revised calendar, comes as Spain ended its “state of alarm” over the weekend, meaning that restrictions of movement and other controls introduced in mid-March are largely lifted. Mitigation steps such as mandatory masks and social distancing remain in place, but Spain, like much of the rest of Europe, tip-toes into a “new normal” that many inside cycling hope will see a resumption of racing.
Last week, the UCI introduced a blueprint for how the sport will try to race in the midst of a global pandemic. The extraordinary document, which calls for such steps as pre-race screening and the creation of controlled “bubbles” across the peloton, will lean heavily on decrees from relevant national and world health authorities, but it provides a roadmap for the resumption of what is a heavily packed racing calendar running from late July into early November.
The first wave of races will see impressive turnout as teams and riders are keen to get back to racing after sitting at home since Paris-Nice in March.
Other races that are now part of the “early” calendar in August, are seeing start lists, team commitments and media interest that outstrip their normal pull. Burgos, for example, typically sees only two or three WorldTour teams. Officials say all but one WorldTour team expressed interest in racing.
The same goes for races in what’s going to be a very busy August in France. With the ever-important Tour de France slated to run August 29 to September 20, many teams won’t be taking any risks about last-minute travel restrictions, and will be sending their most important stars to race an all-French calendar ahead of the Tour. The Critérium du Dauphiné has been shortened and rescheduled for August 12-16, giving more room for other French calendars looking to take advantage of their rare moment in the spotlight.
The Route de l’Occitannie (August 1-4), Mont Ventoux Dénevilé Challenge (August 6) and Tour de l’Ain (August 7-9) leading into the Dauphiné give teams a chance to race their long-dormant stars before a pre-Tour altitude camp, with many slated for the Alps, all while staying within France.
Riders such as Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) — who typically would have a tried-and-true path into the grand tours — are changing things up in 2020, meaning that in Bardet’s case, he’s dropping a planned start at the Giro d’Italia, and racing a French calendar, in August, before the Tour.
“I want to return to the Tour as a real actor,” Bardet said. “I am going to attack more but I won’t be focused on the overall classification.”
Defending Tour champion Egan Bernal (Ineos) is following a similar, all-French calendar in August, giving smaller races like Ain and l’Occitannie big-time names they typically wouldn’t draw.
The women’s new calendar will see big names hungry for racing also head to northern Spain in late July for a series of one-day races before moving into August. Some of the key races remain missing, but anything on the calendar in August will see top names.
The men’s Tour of Poland (August 5-9) is drawing top names that will be targeting the Giro d’Italia, with such marquee stars as Remo Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), defending Giro champion Richard Carapaz (Ineos), and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) among the likely starters.
Other races that normally draw top start lists, such as Strade Bianche or Giro di Lombardia, will take on new importance as they are slotted into the new-look calendar, with a Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo and Lombardia all stacked up in Italy in August as part of cycling’s new season.
With the future uncertain and gnawing fear that a second wave of outbreaks could stop cycling yet again, any race that’s on the calendar in late July and August can count on record interest.