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Coronavirus disrupting retirement plans, creating contract worries

Some 200 riders are off-contract at end of 2020, and not all of them will find a team next year.

Enrico Gasparotto wanted one last hurrah before hanging up the cleats.

The veteran Swiss-Italian imagined another gallop across the Ardennes, one final Tour de France, and then closing out his career with the Olympic Games.

Then came coronavirus and the international racing calendar ground to a complete stop. So much for those best-laid retirement plans.

“The idea was to finish the year with 2020 to finish in style,” Gasparotto told VeloNews. “My career has been quite long, and one idea was to stop at the end of this year. Now with this coronavirus problem, I am thinking twice about it.”

Gasparotto, 38, isn’t alone. Any pro would like to leave the sport on their terms. And retiring without perhaps even racing again isn’t the ideal way to end the script.

Swiss rider Michael Albasini (Mitchelton-Scott) was going to retire at the end of the Tour de Suisse in June. Tony Martin is in the same boat. The four-time world time trial champion was among dozens of top pros considering retirement at the end of 2020.

“The decision is postponed,” Jumbo-Visma’s Martin told Frankfurter Allgemeine. “I wanted to see how I recovered from my crash at the Vuelta a España last year. Now with the disruptions, it’s not the time to make hasty decisions.”

Gasparotto is reluctant to end his career after a season without races. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The delay of the Olympics and the coronavirus are changing retirement plans across the peloton. Even Alejandro Valverde, who already has a contract through 2021, is having second thoughts about when he might retire after having missed much of this season.

But what’s on the other side of the lockdown? No one knows.

With teams across the peloton already feeling the pinch from coronavirus and the race stoppage, there’s worry that a few teams will close. And for those that survive, budgets will be tighter in 2021, and rosters are sure to be leaner.

One rider agent said a big fear in the peloton is forced retirement, saying, “There are guys who don’t want to retire, but are worried about having to as they won’t get a contract.”

It’s almost a certainty that more riders won’t be able to find spots in the WorldTour next year. Some of those will be veterans who would have liked to have concluded their careers differently, but others will be younger riders who simply won’t be able to find a contract.

“Not knowing the future is tough for everybody, but for the younger guys, it’s even worse,” Gasparotto said. “If I decided to keep going, but cannot find a contract, at least I had a pretty good career. But for riders who are 25 or 26, who haven’t had a chance to show their class, maybe they won’t find a contract. We are walking into an unknown world now.”

At least six WorldTour teams have reduced salaries or deferred wages after sponsors are struggling to meet financial commitments due to the global economic shutdown.

Teams and racers alike are hopeful that racing can resume this season, in part to give a salve to sponsors and help teams bridge to the other side of the world pandemic.

If there’s no racing again in 2020, the situation will be even more desperate.

“If we don’t race the Tour, it could be a catastrophe,” said EF Pro Cycling’s Rigoberto Urán. “Of the 18 WorldTour teams, perhaps only three could survive, and others face a complicated future.”

Uran and his EF Pro Cycling teammates are one of many pro squads that have faced salary cutbacks in recent weeks. Photo: Maximiliano Blanco/Getty Images

Every season sees a wave of retirements. In 2019, some of the most experienced veterans left the peloton, including the likes of Bernie Eisel, Lars Bak, Svein Tuft, Laurens ten Dam, and Mark Renshaw. Most of them, however, were able to retire on their terms after long and successful careers.

With 2020 creating such uncertainty in the sport, riders will be desperate to find a seat at the table in what’s already a nervous annual game of musical chairs. ProCyclingStats lists no less than 200 WorldTour riders at the end of contracts at the conclusion of 2020.

For Gasparotto, right now he’s hoping to at least race again in 2020. And now he has one eye on 2021, and perhaps that run at the Olympics. Now a Swiss citizen, he was on the long list to make one of four spots for Tokyo 2020.

“I have not yet decided, because obviously to finish my career with a year without racing is not how I dreamed of it,” said Gasparotto, who only raced at the Saudi Tour in February. “Right now a bit depends on if we can return to racing, and if there’s a spot on the team.

“I’ve raced 16 years and started in 2005,” he said. “Even if I stop tomorrow, I can be happy with my career and who I am now. If I could do it all again, I would probably do the same thing, even the mistakes. It’s thanks to cycling I am the person I am today.”