After nearly three months of lockdown, the Mitchelton-Scott sport director can finally roll up his sleeves, and re-plot the remainder of 2020 in a calendar like no one’s ever seen before.
“At first, people seemed to think it was too much racing,” White said of the UCI’s abridged calendar. “Riders-wise, we’ll have no problem. Staffing could be a little tricky. The calendar with all three grand tours is fine, but there are not a lot of preparation races. I wish there were more races.”
Rescheduling a rider’s calendar is just the first step of a very complicated process of restarting the bike racing world. Ever since coronavirus put the brakes on racing in mid-March, the once non-stop, ever-moving world of professional cycling has been in hibernation.
Just a few weeks ago, the prospect of racing again in 2020 seemed bleak. But as health conditions stabilize and improve across Europe, there is growing hope that men’s and women’s teams will see some racing in the coming months.
Although everything could come crashing down again if there is another flare-up of infections and further lockdowns, teams across the sport are starting to get the wheels turning again.
“All we can do is plan and hope for the best,” White told VeloNews in a telephone interview. “If races are canceled again later, so be it. We’ve got to build a plan, and right now, we are planning to race the complete calendar. Things are going in the right direction. If you had asked me in the middle of April, I would have been a lot more pessimistic.”
White calls the new calendar 2020 Version 2.0. Teams are having to pick up largely from scratch where they left off in March when the wheels went bounding off the cart as lockdowns swept across Europe.
Flash forward nearly three months, and teams are slowly starting to get things moving again. Mechanics are dusting off bikes. Riders are getting back out on the road. Coaches are working up training plans, and sport directors like White are deep into rescheduling racing calendars.
Behind the scenes, teams doctors have been working closely with UCI officials to formulate protocols and mitigation to operate in restrictive conditions if and when racing resumes. Plans are underway for COVID-19 controls, anti-body testing, as well as other health checks for heart and lung capacity across all men’s and women’s teams.
Teams are also building road maps on how to maximize racing while limiting travel and possible exposure. Lotto-Soudal already revealed plans that most teams will likely copy, splitting the squad into two or three working groups that will largely train and race together. That will change based on needs, race profiles, and other factors such as sickness or injuries, but the rough idea is that the same squad heading to the Tour de France will race in France in August, while a Giro d’Italia squad would stay mostly in Italy.
“That’s an idea that a lot of teams are working on,” White said of the blueprint. “In the end, we want to minimize exposure between riders and staff and limit the amount of people coming into the groups. The less people we have contact with, the better. That’s going to be pretty much the norm until we have a vaccine.”
Teams have also reached a compromise with the UCI to ease certain rules in this abridged season. For example, WorldTour teams will only be required to attend the top-tier races, with the option to opt out of other races. Guidelines for roster sizes and fines have also been eased, and points during this season will not be counted toward relegation/promotion going into the next round of licensing.
Since last week, riders in France, Italy, Andorra, and Spain who have been in strict lockdown conditions have been allowed to resume training outdoors. Though certain limitations remain in place, it comes as a salve for riders who’ve been quarantined inside their homes since mid-March.
Teams are also looking at ways of getting their respective riders together for some semblance of training camps, but that might not be possible until at least July. Popular high-altitude training destinations such as Teide and Sierra Nevada remain largely off-limits to anyone not living in the area. With the prospect of summer weather, teams are looking closer to home, with such high-altitude options in the Alps or on Mount Etna.
For Mitchelton-Scott, however, getting riders together won’t be too challenging because more than three-quarters of the team’s riders are based in Andorra or in nearby Girona, Spain.
“We’re not doing anything official, because we already have riders, staff, coaches and sport scientists in those places,” White said of camps. “Once conditions allow, we can do some group training, and then everyone can go home at night.
“And we have several riders in Andorra living at 2,000 meters,” he said. “The most important thing is to start building fitness to be ready to race in August.”
Despite having all three grand tours and cycling’s monuments packed into little more than three months, rescheduling the team’s 28 riders into the new-look calendar isn’t proving as challenging as it might seem.
In what’s a testimony to how well the UCI and other stakeholders worked together to pull together the new racing calendars, White said rider schedules won’t look that different than before, at least in terms of their major targets.
“No one will be doing the Giro-Tour double this year,” he said. “But the Tour-Vuelta double is still possible. And most of our top riders can still target their most important races in this new calendar.”
In fact, if White sees any problem at all it will be trying to keep all of his riders happy with the number of race days they’ll see. Almost no one’s raced more than 15 days in 2020, with most around 10 or less. Some haven’t even raced since 2019, so riders across the spectrum of the peloton — from riders off-contract to young pros looking to leave they mark to veterans hoping to stay in the pack for one more season — will be itching to race.
“If we resume racing, we’ll have riders who will want to race all at the same time,” he said. “Usually, by August, you have a lot of tired and weary riders. The big difference now is that entire teams of riders want to race in the first week of August. We will have 28 fresh and keen riders.”
Right now, everyone is quietly optimistic that if things stay on this improving trend, the Tour de France, other grand tours and one-week races, monuments, and world championships might actually happen, albeit in perhaps restricted and limited access.
For the moment, White has everything he can control nailed down. That just leaves the uncontrollable to worry about.
“My biggest worry is a second wave [of coronavirus],” White said. “That would be the end of the season.”