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UCI hails success of its ‘race bubble’ approach in face of world health crisis

Only a handful of diagnosed cases and cancelations were part of cycling's COVID calendar.

The UCI hailed the results of the refitted 2020 racing calendar that was threatened to be derailed by the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across Europe.

The cycling governing body Tuesday underscored the success of its health protocols as part of the new-look racing calendar that only saw a few race cancelations and a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases among the men’s and women’s peloton.

“The health protocol was a key element for the resumption of the UCI International Calendar, especially for road cycling,” said UCI medical director Xavier Bigard on Tuesday. “From August until November they respected extremely strict measures without which it would not have been possible to obtain the agreement of the competent authorities to organize cycling competitions in the current world health situation.”

The 2020 UCI WorldTour and UCI Women’s WorldTour concluded Sunday with the finishes of the Vuelta Ciclista a España and the Ceratizit Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta in the Spanish capital on Madrid. Those events brought to a close an extraordinary and unprecedented racing season.

Last spring, it appeared that much of the European racing calendar would have to be canceled, and racing stopped in its track in mid-March. The UCI, along with other key stakeholders, worked hard behind the scenes over the next several weeks to create a health protocol that included strict restrictions and controls, dubbed the “race bubble.” It also drew up an ambitious racing calendar that some thought was too far-reaching considering the looming health crisis.

When WorldTour racing resumed in early August with Strade Bianche, many were apprehensive and unsure of what would happen. In the end, much of the rebuilt 2020 racing calendar was able to be contested despite worsening conditions across Europe this fall.

“Its principle [race bubble] and the tests carried out [by the PCR method] have proven their worth,” Bigard said. “Riders, teams and organizers should be commended for their conscientiousness and their commitment. I would also like to warmly thank all the team doctors for their full collaboration, without whom the 2020 season would not have been such a great success.”

Here are some key data points:

• The UCI said that, after cancellations and postponements of some events, the 2020 UCI WorldTour unfolded with 21 events and 121 days of racing, of which 17 events and 101 race days took place from August to early November during the period of the pandemic. For women, almost all the 11 events and 21 days of racing took place under the restrictions imposed due to the international health situation.

• Only Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Roubaix Femmes, and Amstel Gold Race and Amstel Gold Race Ladies were canceled in the new UCI International Road Calendar which was drawn up in May.

• There were 54 positive results (of which only half were among the riders) out of 13,850 PCR tests carried out on the teams, the prevalence rate, which corresponds to the number of ill or contaminated individuals in a population, is 0.34 percent (and only 0.17 percent for the athletes) in our two leading series for road cycling.

• A series of pre-competition tests was made obligatory, as well as follow-up tests on the rest days of the three grand tours. The PCR methods, recognized by the World Health Organization and the competent national authorities as the most accurate for detecting the coronavirus, were chosen by the UCI for the tests.

• The UCI protocol, and its principle of the competition bubble, was then extended to other disciplines, notably mountain bike, track, and cyclocross. Using this protocol it was possible to hold the UCI World Championships for road in Imola, Italy, and for mountain bike in Leogang, Austria.

• In total across all concerned disciplines, there were 63 positive cases (only 29 of which concerned the athletes) out of 18,650 PCR tests carried out on riders and team staff members during 29 women’s events and 94 men’s events (including the UCI WorldTour and UCI Women’s WorldTour), as well as two UCI World Championships. The prevalence rate is 0.30 percent, and only half that (0.15 percent) when it comes to the athletes only.