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The dozens of pro cyclists living and training in Spain woke up to a different reality Sunday morning.
Overnight, Spain’s prime minister imposed a two-week state of alarm that mandates the general public to stay inside their homes to try to contain the spread of coronavirus. That lockdown also includes the ban on riding bikes.
Sources told VeloNews that pros in Girona heading out for training rides Sunday morning were told to return home. Cyclists in other parts of Spain were being advised they will not be allowed to ride during the state of alarm.
The lockdown will affect one of cycling’s hotbeds in dramatic ways. Nearly 100 international men and women pros live in Spain, especially around the Girona area, in Catalunya. Several teams also have their service course in the area as well, and some have opened businesses. And there are hundreds more Spanish professionals based throughout the country. Such places as Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Sierra Nevada are popular altitude training centers. Tom Dumoulin and world champion Annemiek van Vleuten were among several pros on Teide last week, but managed to leave the island before Saturday night’s decree.
Across Spain on Sunday, police and the civil guard were telling motorists, pedestrians and cyclists that all unnecessary movement is banned.
The only exceptions are for work, to buy food, to seek medical care, or to care for elderly or others in need of assistance. All schools, bars, restaurants and stores are shuttered. Public parks, museums and beaches are also closed. Fines starting at 100 euros and more will be handed out starting Monday.
Spain’s lockdown comes on the heels of similar measures in Italy that started a week ago. Spain is second to Italy in terms of coronavirus cases, and the death rate doubled to 288, with more than 7,750 people infected nationwide as of Sunday afternoon.
The shutdown in Spain and Italy adds another complication for cycling’s pro calendar that’s already been thrown into disarray in the wake of the coronavirus hitting Europe.
The European European racing calendar has been wiped out for the rest of March and into April, and Giro d’Italia officials postponed the start of the season’s first grand tour set in May.
Paris-Nice managed to finish Saturday, after canceling its final stage Sunday, and could represent the final race for at least several weeks, if not longer.
The quandary now facing teams is if their athletes living in Spain will be allowed to train. Some teams have already sent riders to nearby Andorra, where severe restrictions are not yet in place, to at least allow athletes to ride. Some are hoping for an exception for professional riders since training is technically part of their livelihood, but as of Sunday, there were reports of police stopping cyclists throughout the country.
The cycling restrictions in Spain at first glance might seem illogical. Under the guise of social distancing, cycling would appear to be the ideal physical activity in a lockdown. A lone rider or a small group of cyclists on an open road or trail are far away from the closed, indoor spaces that authorities are most concerned about.
Yet Spanish health authorities are urging cyclists to stay at home not only because of the threat of infection, but rather the risk of putting additional stresses in case of an accident on an already over-burdened healthcare system.
On Saturday evening, Carlos Mascias, medical director of a private hospital in the outskirts of Madrid, posted a message on the Twitter account of the Vuelta a España explaining the risk of cycling during the state of alarm.
“Stay at home and put the bike aside,” Mascias said. “Whatever possibility to minimize the impact on the resources of medical services that is not directed toward coronavirus is primordial.
“If any cyclist suffers an incident and needs an ambulance or a bed in intensive care, we are taking it away from people who truly need it, who are now arriving en masse to hospitals,” he continued. “If something happens to you now, maybe you have a chance [to be treated], but you will be taking it away from someone else … but in 48 hours, if something happens to you, the one who is left without [ICU] might be you, those who are now riding your bikes.”
Several Spanish pros have taken to social media to share the message among Spain’s active cycling community.
Enric Mas, a Spanish pro with Movistar who lives in Andorra, posted a photo on his Instagram account with the refrain, “#mequedoencasa” — I am staying at home.