The UCI’s top doctor is confident that the 2021 pro racing season will continue, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic across Europe.
UCI medical officer Xavier Bigard said Wednesday that he is hopeful about the progress of the cycling season, and the overall improvement of the worldwide pandemic’s effect on the sport of cycling.
And Bigard said that professional races may even open to spectators in the summer months.
“Overall things should improve over time,” Bigard said. “As soon as we have the elements that allow spectators, we will. We want to be responsive.”
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Bigard’s comments shed insight into how the UCI is viewing the coming months in the world of pro cycling. Ever since pro cycling returned in August 2020 from the initial COVID-19 shutdown, events have operated under strict protocols around social distancing, hand washing, and other sanitary measures.
Fans have been barred from attending the start and finish of most races, and some of the largest events have taken place with little or no fanfare on the side of the road. Whether or not fans return to major summertime events such as the Tour de France or Vuelta a España is a question that appears to have no answer.
Thus far the 2021 racing season has launched with fits and starts, with some races proceeding, and others being canceled or delayed. The Tour Down Under and Tour Colombia 2.1 events were called off entirely, while other events across Spain and Portugal have been canceled or delayed. Bigard said the UCI is confident that no major alterations to the calendar will take place in the immediate future.
“Before the summer, I don’t think it will be reasonable,” said Bigard. “The general principle [of health measures] is based on the concept of isolation bubbles. It is a protective space to maintain distance from other people whose level of contagiousness is unknown.”
In light of the recently discovered COVID-19 variants, as well as different health regulations across the world, it is still unlikely that crowds of spectators will be permitted to line race routes — especially in the start and finish towns — any time in the next several months.
The UCI maintains that mask-use, PCR testing, and holding races “behind closed doors” without crowds have been effective since last summer. It does not plan to alter these safety measures, nor change compliance with health restrictions and requirements for the peloton in the near future, in best efforts to move forward with the racing calendar as it currently stands.
While some teams have already received COVID-19 vaccinations, this is not currently required by the UCI for race eligibility.
Recently, the UCI announced that COVID-19 screenings for teams traveling to races would suffice for pre-race health checks, and rest days during the grand tours will also be used for mass screenings.