A logjam of racing at the end of 2020?
With the European road racing on hold until at least May due to the coronavirus pandemic, that’s looking like a best-case scenario as desperate and perhaps overly optimistic race organizers scramble to find new dates for their events.
Organizers are hopeful that if lockdowns and quarantines are lifted in a matter of weeks or even months, they will be able to slot the slew of canceled events into windows on the calendar later this year. Most are looking for gaps in August or filling out the entire month of October. There is some suggestion racing could continue into November.
Officials from the international cycling federation are pushing back.
A day after UCI president David Lappartient said the UCI will try to accommodate as many races as it can, another high-ranking official said it would be “utopian” to think that all the canceled races will be squeezed into the back-end of the 2020 season.
“All the races already scheduled for this period will have priority,” Tom Van Damme, president of the UCI road commission, told Het Nieuwsblad. “If RCS Sport wishes to replace one of its races with another, I do not see a problem. But it seems impossible to make everyone race in November. Even the last weekend in October seems late to close the season. You can extend the season by a week, or even two weeks if necessary, but you can’t do it indefinitely. Moving all the races from spring to fall is utopian.”
Those comments reveal the growing quandary facing race organizers across Europe. They want to reschedule their events, but no one knows when health authorities will lift lockdowns and quarantines that are being rolled out across Europe. Italy, Spain and Portugal are already in lockdown, while France, Germany and other nations are tightening restrictions by the day.
Despite optimism that the coronavirus crisis might lift after a few weeks of lockdown, some experts are warning that controlling the pandemic will require extreme measures for months, not weeks. Some are quietly whispering that other dates on the calendar will be threatened, including July’s Tour de France and the Tokyo Olympic Games, set for late July and running into August, despite assurances from both organizations that the events are still being planned as scheduled.
Right now, everything is on hold. The Vuelta a Asturias in northern Spain is the next race that remains at least tentatively on the schedule set for May 1-3. On Wednesday, UCI swatted back rumors that the Giro d’Italia might be held in June.
“The puzzle is going to be difficult to manage, and we will not be able to satisfy everyone,” Van Damme said. “Choices will have to be made. But let’s try anyway because it can be crucial for the survival of certain races.”
Van Damme also expressed concern that forcing the peloton to race perhaps into November would negatively impact recovery and spill over into the 2021 season.
“If we postpone the races, we must also be careful not to mortgage the 2021 season,” he said. “And we know that the Tour of Flanders in the fall will not have the same pace as in April.”
As race after race has been dropped from the calendar — Amstel Gold and Tro-Bro Léon were the latest to cancel — there is a new sense of fatality settling in across the peloton.
More than 100 men’s and women’s races on the UCI international calendar have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across Europe. Riders living in Spain, Portugal and Andorra are being told by health authorities they cannot train outside. Pro riders in Italy are allowed to train outside alone, but are often met with a barrage of insults and dirty looks from locked-down neighbors.
“The atmosphere here now is unreal. When I go to the supermarket, there is no one in the streets, just a scary silence,” CCC Team rider Fausto Masnada told The Outer Line. “I hope that we can race soon, but now health is more important.”
Teams like Mitchelton-Scott and Israel Start-Up Nation are holding virtual riding events with the public to try to keep their fans engaged and their riders busy. Other teams are winding down operations until further notice.
“Our cycling team will limit its activity by taking the necessary measures to protect the health of its staff and to contribute to the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said Ag2r-La Mondiale boss Vicento Lavenu. “The riders will observe a semi-rest period alternating between muscle-building sessions and riding on their home trainers. This program will evolve with the evolution of the containment measures. We hope to find you all on the side of the roads when, united, we have overcome this ordeal.”
Pro riders are doing their best to deal with the stoppage. Riders on contract years are feeling extra pressure, while others, such as classics star Philippe Gilbert, admit they have no choice but to wait it out.
“It’s hard to train without a goal,” Gilbert said in a video. “I don’t want to lose morale. Training is still possible, and I will do everything possible to stay at a high level. When we finally have a date to return to racing, I will be ready.”
When that is, nobody knows. Everyone inside cycling is hoping that it will be sometime before 2020 ends.