Riders and teams around the world today could breathe a sigh of relief from the official UCI announcement of a new cycling calendar at the end of the season and confirmation that the Tour de France will now take place two months after its original start scheduled for June 27.
“I’m really happy to finally have a calendar, to see that races like the Tour de France, the worlds, and the monuments are planned to go ahead,” said French rider Julian Alaphilippe, who wore the yellow jersey for two weeks in last year’s Tour de France. “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel, which is something good for the morale in times like these as it gives you an extra boost to work harder in order to be fit for when the moment will come to be again with my teammates.”
“Effectively, it is a relief having real dates for the Tour,” AG2R-LaMondiale manager Vincent Lavenu said in a group press conference, barely an hour after the official announcement. “For the moment it seems that we won our bet, and will have the 2020 season, even though there are still a lot of unknowns regarding the coronavirus crisis. We don’t know what races will be available. We still don’t know the dates of the Giro and Vuelta, and the last three months of the season will be very intense, but the season is not lost.”
Lavenu, who has managed and directed teams for nearly 30 years, said that the new racing calendar will change everybody’s original plans, and riders may well have to shift their focus or objectives. Romain Bardet, the AG2R team leader, originally planned to focus on the Giro d’Italia, but now will almost surely return to the Tour de France.
“Sure he [Bardet] was originally scheduled to do the Giro,” Lavenu said. But everything changed. The Tour will be the biggest world spectacle of the year considering that the Olympics are canceled, along with so many other major sporting events. It will be even more important for the riders and teams to be present.”
For Lavenu, the benefits to sponsors will be more concentrated on the Tour than ever, since the season will be short. And for a French team, it would be impossible to not field their best team.
In addition, the Tour essentially replaces the Vuelta on the international calendar, making it an ideal warm-up to the world championships. “Actually having the world championships one week after the Tour de France is almost perfect,” he said. “If a rider comes out of the Tour in good shape they generally have the best shape of the season the week after. So worlds is still a priority.”
Still, plenty of questions remain. Many riders are still in lockdown and cannot train outside, as is the case in France, Italy and Spain. And many events have yet to finalize their actual dates. We still do not know the rescheduled dates of the Giro or the Vuelta or monuments like Milano-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, or Paris-Roubaix.
But there seems to be little doubt that there will be sufficient time to train and race before the Tour de France. A handful of short stage races could still well be placed in late July or early August, while the European national championships weekend will still be held the weekend before the start of the Tour de France on August 22-23.
“I am very confident that we will have ample opportunity to be in top race shape for the start of the Tour de France,” Guillaume Martin, leader of the French Cofidis team said in a telephone interview with VeloNews. Martin has been confined on the family farm in northern France, and like all French riders, has been forced to train inside. “We should be able to start training outside again on May 15 (ed., according to the French president in a national address on Monday night), and then we can perhaps do an altitude camp with a couple of teammates and then get a couple of races in our legs before the Tour actually starts. I will have no problem being in peak condition in late August.”
For Lavenu, even though the Tour will not be held during the annual French vacations, he is confident it will be hugely popular. “Sure life will have started again. People will be back at work and kids will be back in school, but that doesn’t mean that there will be no one on the roads. To the contrary, there will be kids in the playgrounds during recess. So there will still be a lot of people in the towns. Even in September, you will see plenty of people on the side of the road.”
And while the race-packed calendar may offer logistic complications for some of the teams, Lavenu insists that there will be no shortage of riders. “The last three months of the season will be very intense, but riders will have been frustrated not to race, so there will be no problem getting enough riders to race. We have 28 riders and shouldn’t have any problem fielding a team for the three grand tours.”
Lavenu also maintains that the renewed race calendar may well help cycling survive the coronavirus crisis where other sports struggle. “Still having three grand tours this season offers a huge advantage to cycling. Olympic athletes cannot count on that. We will see at the end of the season what the real impact on each team is, but the Tour is the third biggest world sporting event. It knows how to be flexible. And that will assure perhaps 75 percent of the visibility to sponsors and investors.”
But while news of a new cycling calendar was cause for celebration, there is also a need for caution. After all, the new 2020 pro cycling calendar is still dependent on a reduction of the COVID-19 virus around the world.