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New details emerge on COVID-19 ‘bubbles’ for cycling and other sports at Tokyo Olympics

Athletes must clear COVID-19 tests upon arrival and will be placed into a pre-competition ‘bubble’ for 14 days, creating hurdles for many Tokyo-bound cyclists.

A version of cycling’s “race bubble” that helped save the 2020 racing season will be introduced for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

VeloNews has learned that IOC and Japanese Olympic officials plan to create COVID-free bubbles for all athletes heading to the rescheduled Olympic Games this summer. Part of that mediation plan will require athletes to clear COVID-19 controls before leaving for Japan, and then remain inside a “bubble” for two weeks before competition begins.

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As first reported by Het Laatste Nieuws, Olympic officials plan to impose a 14-day isolation period before competition begins in late July and into August. VeloNews has independently confirmed that the two-week quarantine period will not be a “hard lockdown” inside of an apartment or hotel.

Instead, athletes will be able to train and prepare for their respective sports at their venues, but they must remain isolated and distanced from the larger public for a two-week period before their medal events.

Those rules — which have yet to be publicly announced by the IOC or Japanese Olympic officials — will have a major impact on Tokyo-bound road cyclists.

With the elite men’s road race slated for July 24, a 14-day pre-arrival date would overlap against riders hoping to complete the Tour de France (June 26 to July 18).

The women’s road race is the following day on July 25, and also creates a conflict for riders planning to race the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile, which runs July 2-11, or La Course by the Tour on July 18.

Riders such as multi-discipline star Mathieu van der Poel and defending Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet have already expressed their concern about having to choose between the Tour, which is paramount to pro team sponsors, and the Olympic Games, which are contested under national banners.

There’s been no public comment so far from the UCI on this issue during the holiday period.

VeloNews confirmed that other safety steps include a series of health screenings for Tokyo-bound athletes. Olympians will be required to clear a COVID-19 control 72 hours before traveling to Japan. Once in Tokyo, athletes will be required to clear another health check. More checks will be conducted throughout the Games.

There won’t be any sightseeing or post-Games partying for any athletes. Once their competition is concluded, Olympians will be required to immediately leave Japan.

The 14-day isolation period will count only once athletes arrive in Japan. Similar to cycling’s “bubble” concept that was successfully deployed this summer, athletes will be required to stay within their venue for training and competition.

VeloNews understands that this will be an “active” quarantine period that will allow athletes to train and prepare for competition.

Staying close to a venue won’t be a problem for a swimmer or a basketball player, but the rule could present additional logistical hurdles for cyclists.

Fortunately, the road cycling events are largely held on roads near Mount Fuji that are far from central Tokyo. Track and mountain bike events are also scheduled at venues very far from Tokyo, and only BMX is set in a venue in central Tokyo.

Even before the 2020 Olympics were postponed, national federations had already secured housing for their national cycling teams far from the congested urban center in order to allow their athletes to train to open roads ahead of competition.

There has been some suggestion that the road cycling events could be pushed back deeper into the Olympic schedule to allow riders to compete in the marquee road events in Europe and still have time to arrive in Japan. Others have wondered if dates of the Tour de France or the Giro Rosa could be moved up earlier to give riders more time to complete the stage races, and still have a window of time to arrive in Japan for the road races.

Sources told VeloNews that both scenarios are unlikely. Events so big and unwieldy as the Olympics or the Tour de France would prove challenging to change despite still having several months to go.

The new details of the Olympic mitigation plans have been shared with national federations only over the past week or so. In November, the IOC assured national governing bodies that the Olympics would be contested this summer.

Since that meeting, health conditions have worsened across the globe, including a new strain of COVID-19 that is worrying health officials. This week, Japanese officials closed international borders and lifted travel exemptions for Olympic athletes through the end of January.

The stricter protocols reveal how much Japanese and Olympic officials are hoping to hold the rescheduled Games. Olympic officials have already said that if the rescheduled Games cannot be contested this summer, they will be canceled outright.

The next summer Olympic Games is scheduled for Paris, in 2024. Everyone hopes by then that the coronavirus will be safely under wraps.