Professional cyclists living in Andorra won’t be able to train outside on open roads as officials tighten restrictions on the Pyrenean principality to fight the growing coronavirus health crisis.
In a letter sent overnight by the Andorran sport secretary seen by VeloNews, officials informed the nearly 45 professional cyclists living in Andorra they will not be allowed to ride their bikes during an emergency health lockdown that began Wednesday.
“I’m sorry to inform you that following the recommendations of the Government that we cannot authorize you to continue training on the country’s roads,” the letter read. “We ask for your responsibility and solidarity because right now the public health should be the highest priority.”
Like Spain, which went into lockdown Sunday, officials are worried about the health system becoming overloaded with patients seeking treatment for COVID-19. Officials do not want to risk cyclists being injured in a crash or a mishap, and thus taking up valuable hospital resources such as ambulances or ICU beds, as authorities grapple with the health emergency.
As of Wednesday morning, March 18, Andorra had 14 reported cases of COVID-19, while neighboring Spain saw the number of cases balloon to 11,800 with 543 confirmed deaths. Spain imposed a nationwide “state of alarm” on Sunday, closing schools, non-essential businesses and public beaches and parks, and ordered the border between Andorra and Spain closed three days ago.
The shutdown is affecting scores of professional cyclists who use Andorra and nearby Girona, Spain, as their European base of operation. Officials allow the public to ride bikes to work in some cases, but cyclists in Spain who ignore the lockdown order are being issued heavy fines starting at 300 euros to several thousand euros, with possible police confiscation of bicycles.
Pro racers who have remained in Spain and Andorra are being forced to adjust their training schedules and most are using indoor trainers to maintain fitness during the scheduled two-week lockdown. Mitchelton-Scott, which has seen many of its riders affected by the shutdown, have taken to doing training rides on the training app Zwift.
World time trial champion Rohan Dennis (Team Ineos), who lives in Andorra but finds himself trapped in Girona due to a planned surgery for his pet, told the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper he’s settling into training indoors.
“I was training really well. I was out on the road until yesterday, but it will be two weeks of indoor training now,” Dennis said. “Instead of doing three-day blocks then a recovery day, I’ll probably do two days solid on the ergo and then one day off. When I was up in Andorra and it was snowing I’d do two and a half to three hours on the ergo.”
In Italy, where a lockdown began more than one week ago, officials there are allowing professional riders to train on the open roads, but only if they’re riding alone and stay within their hometown province. Officials are allowing the public to ride bikes to work, but recreational cycling is banned across Italy.
“Yes, pros can train outside,” American Ben King (NTT Racing) told VeloNews. “The concern is that recreational riders, if they crash, can take up space in hospitals. I haven’t been to hospital in 10 years from a training crash — knock wood — but with that in mind, I am being extra cautious.”
King said he’s required to ride with a copy of his Italian-issued racing license with him, and can only ride alone. King, who’s lived in Lucca, Italy, since 2011, said the typically busy streets in the Tuscan city are eerily quiet as schools, shops, bars, restaurants and businesses are closed.
“It’s still a bit uncomfortable,” he said. “Every person I pass, I am getting dirty looks and some rude comments. By law, I cannot stop and explain to them why we are allowed to ride because it is our profession.”
Portugal also decreed a strict lockdown, while France shut bars, restaurants and nightclubs, but has been less-stringent than Italy and Spain, and is allowing the public to go outside so long as they respect social distancing. A sports minister there urged cyclists in France to stay off the roads during the next few weeks.
Top French WorldTour teams, including Groupama-FDJ and Ag2r-La Mondiale, have announced virtual lockdowns into April as the pro cycling racing calendar continues to fall into disarray in the wake of the coronavirus crisis sweeping Europe.