The Covid-19, a sword of Damocles over cycling

Published on : 22/02/2021 – 16:35

Cancellations of races and closed doors, dotted calendar, teams forced to withdraw… The Covid-19 pandemic poses a constant threat to cycling.

It was a stroke of luck for Mathieu van der Poel and his Alpecin-Fenix ​​team. While the young Dutch prodigy won, on Sunday February 21, the first stage of the UAE Tour – the Tour of the United Arab Emirates -, the first date of the highest level of the cycling season, his team had to throw in the towel without even compete in the second stage. In question: a positive test for Covid-19 of a member of the staff. An illustration of the permanent uncertainty in which the cycling world is evolving to continue its journey despite the pandemic.

“The team was notified of a positive result in a member of the team after tests carried out on Sunday evening”, explains the press release published by Alpecin-Fenix ​​on social networks. “In agreement with the organizers of the UAE Tour, we have therefore decided to withdraw our team to protect the health bubble and allow the race to continue.”

“After receiving the results, the person immediately went into solitary confinement, as did those who came into contact with this person,” the statement added.

A threat hanging over every race

On Sunday, the French team Saint-Michel Auber 93 did not start the third stage of the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var after the diagnosis of a positive case. The screening was “carried out in anticipation of the Drôme-Ardèche Loops” which are to take place on February 27 and 28.

As part of a special Covid-19 medical protocol from the International Cycling Union (UCI), teams must be tested before they can participate in races. The specific testing schedule depends on a team’s race schedule but typically includes a six-day test and then three days before a race. In the event of a positive test during a race, the team withdraws.

At the beginning of February, la formation belge Sport Flanders-Baloise had to give up “as a precaution” to take the start of the 51e edition of the Étoile de Bessèges due to a case of Covid-19 in its management team.

Constant adaptation

In a sport like cycling where a runner’s season is measured out and arranged from A to Z to optimize performance and peak form, the Covid-19 turns into a puzzle to organize the calendars of the athletes: “The masters words, it’s agility, adaptation “, sums up Jean-Baptiste Quiclet, performance director of AG2R-Citroën, interviewed by Le Monde on how the teams are dealing with the pandemic. “It is at the end of spring that we will see if the runners have been unsettled by the fear of being late in their preparation,” he predicts.

This is the bad adventure suffered by the Slovak superstar, Peter Sagan. Tested positive for Covid-19 on January 29 during a training camp in Spain with his brother Juraj and his teammate Erik Baska, the Slovak was placed in solitary confinement for ten days, which delayed his preparation.

While he was hoping to make his comeback in Belgium on the Het Nieuwsblad (February 27) and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne (February 28) Circuit, he had to give up, not feeling “yet” ready.

The fear of cancellations

In addition to the positive test, riders and teams also fear the cancellation of events. Since the beginning of January, the calendar has already been turned upside down: the Australian races which traditionally mark the resumption of the World Tour have been canceled. Other organizers of smaller events are also throwing in the towel.

One-day (Denain GP) or stage races (Circuit de la Sarthe, Tour de Normandie) had to be canceled at the start of 2021. Others will probably follow, of their own doing or lack of authorizations. necessary, since the last word rests with the prefectural authority.

The cycling Tour of Flanders, one of the five “monuments” of cycling scheduled for April 4, is in camera to limit the risks. Like last year, the public will therefore be banned in the start and finish areas, the mountains and the cobbled areas which are the salt of this major date on the calendar. All while praying that the health situation does not deteriorate by then.

Arnaud Démare, the best French sprinter in the peloton (Groupama-FDJ), is still the one who best summed up the situation by sharing his training program on his Instagram account: “Hoping that all of this can take place.”

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