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Pressure growing within cycling community to postpone Olympic Games

Canada became the first nation to pull out of the Olympics while Australia told its athletes to plan for a rescheduling.

There’s mounting pressure from within the cycling community to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Late last week, the Spanish and Dutch cycling federations joined their respective Olympic committees urging that the Games be rescheduled. The Tokyo Olympic Games are slated to start July 24, with the men’s road race as one of the first medal events.

On Monday, Canada became the first nation to say it will not send athletes to the Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis, while Australia told its athletes to start preparing for 2021 in the expectation that the Games will be rescheduled.

“We’ve had to make a call now because of the situation here in Australia and other parts of the world,” AOC Chief Executive Matt Carroll told reporters in Sydney on Monday. “But the IOC is still working through their final decision-making.”

Reuters reported that International Olympic Committee officials, which earlier insisted the Games would go on as scheduled, are now beginning to at least game-plan a possible rescheduling of the Games. On Sunday, IOC president Thomas Bach said a decision on the status of the 2020 Games will be made within a month.

“Together with all the stakeholders, we have started detailed discussions today to complete our assessment of the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including a scenario of postponement,” read a statement from the IOC.

Officials are said to be considering delaying the Games until the fall, or perhaps moving them to 2021 or even 2022.

Cycling, like many sports, faces inconsistent conditions for athletes around the globe in the decisive weeks and months leading up to the Games. Several countries are in lockdown after pro bike racing has been canceled through at least the end of April, preventing cyclists from training outdoors. Athletes from other nations, however, do not face such restrictions and have been able to continue to train and prepare.

“The idea of going to the Olympics with athletes who cannot train to compete against others who can prepare doesn’t make much sense,” Spain’s cycling federation president José Luis López Cerrón told Spanish website ciclo21. “Perhaps the best option is to delay the Games until the fall or even 2021.”

Federations across a wide spectrum of sports are already clamoring the International Olympic Committee to reschedule the Summer Games in light of a worsening coronavirus crisis gripping the world. Federations including the U.S. Track and Field as well as USA Swimming have joined a growing chorus to delay the Olympics.

Spain’s cycling federation joined the Spanish Olympic Committee in its plea to reschedule the Games. Spain is home to not only Spanish cyclists, but nearly 100 other top international cyclists, triathletes, and runners, many of whom live in and around Girona, Spain. Andorra — where nearly 50 professional cyclists live — has been on lockdown for more than a week, with a ban on outdoor cycling in place.

Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), one of the favorites for the elite men’s road race, agreed that a new date for the Olympic Games should be considered.

“I don’t think moving the Olympics to 2021 is such a bad idea,” said Nibali, speaking to journalists Friday from his home base in Lugano, Switzerland via Facebook. “The Olympics only come around every four years, it’s only a question of peaking for them.”

Officials urging a rescheduling of the competition say that the international health crisis not only creates an uneven playing field, but also puts athletes and other staffers under undue physical and mental stress. There are also concerns about how the growing health crisis will inhibit anti-doping efforts in light of ever stricter travel restrictions.

“We consider it imprudent and nearly irresponsible that athletes here and in the rest of the world continue to prepare for the Olympics in such terrible and unhealthy conditions,” Dutch cycling federation president Marcel Wintels told the Dutch wire ANP, “We know how athletes always will sacrifice and do everything possible to achieve their goals, but this only pushes athletes and their coaches to train as best they can, which not only puts their own health at risk, but everyone else’s as well.”

The coronavirus crisis has already impacted cycling‘s run up to Tokyo in other ways. Last week, the UCI said qualification for all cycling events would be back-dated to early March, meaning that riders on the bubble for Olympic qualifying won’t be able to perform as they might have hoped in the closing rounds of competition. The UCI has so far followed the IOC’s recommendations about the Games.

On Sunday, USA Cycling officials confirmed the federation is following the lead of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

“Should the IOC determine it necessary to change the dates of the Games, USA Cycling will adjust accordingly and provide new information through direct communication to athletes and coaches, on their website, and through social media channels,” USA Cycling said in a statement last week.