Philippe Gilbert is prepared to do what it takes to see racing return this season.
With his Lotto-Soudal team among the first to implement a “bubble” system to keep riders and staff in discrete race units, and the UCI and race organizers rolling out a host of health and safety guidelines, racing will look altogether different this season, and life on the team bus will change completely.
The Tour de Pologne confirmed that it will be going “behind closed doors” in what may become a precedent should coronavirus conditions in Europe worsen or if early-August races run into problems. However, for Gilbert, at least there will be a bike race.
“Formula 1 has resumed without spectators, it’s true that it feels a bit weird,” Gilbert said Monday. “But in the meantime, there is a race anyway. We save the main one. Television and the media follow the events. If we even manage to do just that [in cycling], we will have saved the essential. We will have shown a certain spectacle.
“Even if we like the contact with the public, it’s better an event without spectators than no event at all.”
Lotto-Soudal was one of many teams to reduce salaries through the racing stop, and CCC-Team is on the ropes after the loss of its title sponsor. It’s not just spectacle at stake with the successful resumption of racing, but salaries and livelihoods. Gilbert’s Belgian squad has been particularly proactive in the bid to ensure rider and staff safety, adding its own tighter measures atop of the guidelines set out by the UCI.
“At Lotto-Soudal, we do everything to minimize risks,” Gilbert told RTBF.be. “We work by ‘bubbles.’ We try to stay with a group always the same, with the minimum of people. Here in training, we only have a mechanic and two masseurs. We work at a minimum, almost like a Continental team.
“There are two compulsory tests before the events. It’s not very pleasant, but it’s part of the job. We have no choice, we go there.”
The Belgian star is hopeful that the raft of protocol put in place by event organizers, teams and governing bodies are adhered to. Unless the whole peloton plays ball, the system could fall over altogether.
“The UCI, the organizers, the team have put in place a lot of rules. All these protocols must be respected in order to be at the start of the races,” Gilbert said. “I am hoping that there are races. Seeing the current situation and the number of sick people increasing every day, it becomes worrying again.”
Gilbert will start his season at Strade Bianche on August 1. Just one week later, the 38-year-old will be racing to conquer the one monument not yet in his palmarès, Milano-Sanremo. Whether he wins on the Via Roma or not, he’ll just be grateful he had the chance to race.