Cycling’s abridged and compact racing calendar gives everyone in the peloton a much-needed finish line.
That’s according to UAE-Team Emirates sport director Allan Peiper, who said riders who’ve been in lockdown for nearly two months due to coronavirus are champing at the bit to return to training and racing.
“Having a schedule is like a light at the end of a tunnel,” Peiper told VeloNews. “Riders are excited at the prospect of racing again. They’ve been riding around aimlessly for two months, or stuck inside their homes. This calendar is good for everyone.”
Last week, the UCI revealed a revised racing calendar that packs all three grand tours, the monuments, and a host of other WorldTour races into little more than three months. More races are expected to be added in the coming weeks.
Peiper, a former pro who’s directed at such teams as Slipstream, High Road, and BMC, said he doesn’t agree with some of the commentary he’s read that the calendar is too demanding or overly-ambitious. Instead, for Peiper, it offers a salve for a sport in lockdown mode that’s putting entire teams in danger.
“From the riders I’ve spoken to, everyone is excited about moving toward that racing calendar,” he said in a telephone interview. “Now we can start working on planning for the second half of the year. There is another three months before the first races.”
Teams and riders are starting to make new plans for what everyone hopes will be at least some form of racing before the year is out. Officials are quietly confident if health authorities give the green light, race organizers and teams will be able to deliver a format that’s compatible with prevailing health conditions.
With racing slated to resume August 1 with Strade Bianche, the peloton will be watching how Europe evolves over the next several weeks as nations begin to ease some of the more severe restrictions. There are worries about travel and possible quarantines for riders and staffers crossing borders.
Right now, Peiper said it’s important for riders to resume training, and not get too worried about how things might look in three months.
“People are already asking if there will be time for altitude camps. Maybe we’ll have to prepare locally. Right now it’s not worth trying to find solutions when you don’t know what the circumstances will be,” he said. “That’s putting the cart before the horse.
“What’s most important right now is that we have a WorldTour calendar,” he continued. “The UCI has done a good job putting together the program. The riders have time to prepare and teams can work out logistics and schedules. Right now, what’s important is that people have something to aim for.”
Though some remain skeptical that racing will be allowed later this summer, Peiper said that teams need to prepare and be ready to race. With a calendar in place, there is now a concrete goal, something that has been missing since March.
With so much uncertainty, especially about the future of teams and races, Peiper said fans should expect fireworks if racing can start again as hoped.
“The first races will be all guns firing,” Peiper said. “This is unlike anything anyone’s seen before. There will be some surprises. Some riders have been in lockdown for two months. Others have been able to train 20-25 hours per week. But even if you’re riding outside, there’s no real purpose.
“Riders are going to be at different levels, not only just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well,” he continued. “This has been a straining couple of months. Some guys haven’t even raced since last year’s Tour de France. There are going to be a lot of question marks.”
Coronavirus and the ensuing lockdowns have also put the strain on teams across the peloton. At least six major teams have reduced wages, deferred salaries, and cut support staff jobs, and several team owners say their teams are facing a direct threat of closure if there is no racing in 2020.
Peiper said that uncertainty is hitting the riders, many who will be looking for new contracts for 2021. That pent-up anxiety and uncertainty will translate into the racing, if and when it happens.
“Guys are going to be ready to race,” he continued. “They want to show themselves, especially guys who are off-contract. There will be a lot of uncertainty about the financial situations for many of the teams. A lot of riders will be nervous about their futures.
“Bike racers, by their nature, are resilient. They have to be,” he said. “They bounce back from crashes when people think they’ll never race again. The racing will be hot and fast, because everyone will want to show something.”