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Chris Froome, Egan Bernal, Primoz Roglic, Nairo Quintana, Tadej Pogacar … the Tour de France start list is starting to take shape as teams confirm their leaders for this year’s race. One notable omission so far is newly-branded Team Manuela Fundación.
With a constantly shifting racing calendar, questions about rider form, and difficulty forecasting recovery rates in a season allowing little let-up, the team formerly-known as Mitchelton-Scott won’t be writing out its rosters just yet.
“It’s a jigsaw puzzle,” sport director Mathew Hayman told VeloNews of his team’s rider schedule for the post-coronavirus season.
“Yes, there has to be an element of planning and we need to get these guys focused on goals,” he said. “But we’ve got to be very aware more so than any other year that it’s a bit of a moving target.”
In a traditional season, directors can sketch out rosters and racing priorities almost as soon as the previous season closes down. Racing and training pathways toward the spring classics, May’s Giro d’Italia, and the high-summer Tour de France are well-trodden and are rolled out by teams year on year. It ain’t broke, so they sure aren’t going to fix it.
However this year, the axle snapped and is now held together with sticky tape. Team managers are contending with the possibility of race dates moving and uncertainty over rider form, mindset, and recovery rates following a three-month layoff. Tried-and-tested race and recovery blocks ahead of key competitions are long in the rear-view mirror.
“In a normal season, it’s so much easier to pull rosters because it is fairly standard, you know, there might be a weekend different here or there, but you’ve done that same program so many times,” Hayman said. “It’s just a whole new world trying to get your head around where people’s form will be and what condition they’re in.”
“We’re creatures of habit and we’re being taken right out of that comfort zone with things around the wrong way,” he continued. “Some guys have been training really hard and other guys might have chilled out thinking they can get back [in form] – and they may end up scrambling and not get back, and not handle those first races at all. I want to wait and see the guys back racing, and seeing the first few weeks of racing will likely affect how the rest of the year is filled in.”
With the reshaped race calendar subject to constant alteration, planning too far ahead could prove futile. Only last week, Il Lombardia was moved forward by over two months. The global health situation remains unpredictable, and cycling’s key stakeholders are liable to keep jostling over calendar slots, leaving no guarantees a race goes ahead as planned until the riders roll off the start line at kilometer zero.
“I’m not saying that we’re not planning at all and, and bits of the season are filled in,” Hayman said in a phone interview. “But yeah, we’re very aware that races might move or change somehow, like Lombardia. And, then, you have to rethink how you stack that race, it changes what it’s worth to us and how much of a risk you take on it.”
Mitchelton-Scott’s rebrand to reflect new sponsors the Manuela Fundación is just one manifestation of the huge impact the shuttered season has had on the finances of cycling, which has also seen CCC Team recently lose its title backers. With the coffers squeezed, the financial kickback from race appearances and trips to the podium will prove more vital than ever for even the most financially secure teams, meaning decisions over where to lay bets and send star riders takes on even greater importance.
Determining the possible financial return of a race could prove just as vital in deciding rider selections as form and logistics, and so the money-spinning Tour de France becomes the race to get right, with Hayman saying, “It does create pressure, but there’s always pressure – that’s what professional sport is about.”
With the team’s head sport director Matt White forecasting that teams will send their strongest squads possible to the Tour, it’s likely Vuelta a España champion Simon Yates will be lining up in Nice on August 29, possibly joined by one or both of Esteban Chaves or his twin brother, Adam.
Just as Manuela Fundación’s first-ever Tour de France squad remains a mystery, the team’s start sheets for the rest of the season remain an unknown. Across the peloton, there is little indication of possible line-ups for the season’s final grand tour, the late-fall Vuelta. Hayman explained that to create schedules that far in advance is nigh-on impossible in such unprecedented circumstances. Team priorities will change week on week and short recovery periods between races could see fatigue kick in fast. Squad selection will be more fluid than ever.
“I think we have to take the year race by race, look at the overall view,” Hayman said.
“Before the pandemic, we would have been going to the Giro with a solely GC view. And with knowing what you’ve got out of that, you could plan better for how you attack the Tour – even though some of those plans would already be in place – and you adjust it on the fly.
“This year it is all coming so thick and fast and everything is going to have a knock-on effect. It’s going to be a bit different. There are so many variables and we’re going to have to change things all the time.”
Expect organized chaos across the entire peloton.