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French riders push back on request to ease riding restrictions

Bardet and Calmejane argue against French Cycling Union's request for pros to be able to train freely while others push for special dispensation.

The French Cycling Union (UNCP) is pushing authorities to allow professional riders to train outside, but not everyone is happy at the prospect.

Over the weekend, the UNCP wrote to the French Ministry of Sports seeking dispensation to allow French pros to train outdoors while the rest of the nation remains under strict lockdown protocol. With riders currently stuck putting in painfully high hours on the indoor trainer, it would be expected that the news would have been met with a ripple of applause. That’s not the case for Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Energie).

“Everyone is tired of confinement,” Bardet said Tuesday. “If pros are going to ride, amateurs will want to do it, too. And while there is talk of a drop in respect for the rules, the message would not be positive. Now is not the time for selfishness.”

Racing is still seemingly still a distant speck on the horizon after the early season was shuttered due to coronavirus. The Tour de France is currently the first date in the WorldTour calendar, June 27, though recent reports suggest that the Tour will be pushed back by one month, to late July, in a bid to ensure health and safety.

“There is no urgency to obtain a waiver for the right to ride on the road,” Bardet told LeMonde. “This will only be important when we have a recovery schedule.”

Calmejane, whose ProTour team receives automatic invitations to the Tour de France, is of a similar opinion to Bardet.

“If we stay in general confinement, I don’t see why the pro cyclists could come out in complete freedom before everyone else, whereas we don’t have any competition before July,” Calmejane told L’Equipe. “At some point, you have to lead by example. Unity is also what makes us get out of the crisis without too much damage.”

France is one of many European nations that has imposed strict lockdown measures, with residents only allowed out of home isolation for essential travel, key work functions, or exercise within one kilometer of the home. While French workers such as builders and farmers are free to leave quarantine to carry out their work, professional cyclists are still bound indoors, to the trainer.

The French restrictions currently only extend to April 15, though it is more likely than not that the lockdown will be prolonged. In fear of the measures being lengthened, the UNCP wrote to the French Ministry of Sport requesting an exemption for professional riders to train.

“We are simply asking to be considered as workers,” Pascal Chanteur,  president of the UNCP said this weekend.

“The Minister of Agriculture calls people to go and help the market gardeners: the riders must not be considered as French sub-citizens,” he told L’Equipe. “If nothing is done, I fear an economic disaster. The job of the cyclist is precarious today, employees are in difficulty. Jobs will be lost. ”

Riders in France are among the hardest hit in Europe. Along with France, cycling hot spots Spain, Italy and Andorra also have strict no-ride policies. However, Belgium, Holland and the UK are among a number of countries where riding on the open road is still allowed.

The disparity in conditions has recently led Belgian rider Oliver Naesen to set his Strava account to private in order to stem criticism he had been receiving from those unaware of local regulations or jealous of his freedom to train. The use of social media sites such as Strava has highlighted the differing conditions across Europe, leaving French riders frustrated.

“The gap between them and us is widening,” Adrien Petit (Total Direct Energie) told L’Equipe, Saturday. “The situation is becoming burdensome. When I see that the employees on the building sites or the deliverers make their trade, I tell myself that by putting a few restrictions, one could almost do the same.”

The verdict of the French Ministry of Sport has still yet to be delivered, and for now, riders are making do with indoor trainers and Zwift. Whether the authorities lift restrictions on French pros or not, it looks like not all the riders will be happy with the verdict.