At the start of each season, it’s the same ritual in cycling teams. The runners and their support reveal the major events they have set for themselves. Flandrian classics for a day, for example, for some, stage races and grand tours for others. In recent weeks, the various leading teams have thus posted their racing programs. But, with an epidemic of Covid-19 still galloping, these are similar, this year, to bets on the future, as the calendar of competitions seems very uncertain.
After a disrupted year 2020 – stopped at the beginning of March, it resumed at the beginning of August -, and while the season of the elite cycling (the World Tour) must officially begin Sunday, January 31, with the Grand Prix La Marseillaise, we do not already count plus canceled events. Scheduled for January, the Tour Down Under (Australia) and the Tour of San Juan (Argentina) threw in the towel. As well as the Tour of Oman, which was to take place in February.
In Portugal, the tour of the Algarve has been postponed (from mid-February to May), while in Spain, the Challenge of Mallorca and the Tour of Andalusia (scheduled for the end of February) have been postponed, the Tour of Normandy , meeting hexagonal in March, being canceled for the second year in a row.
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“This winter, the whole calendar is different from other years”, notes Jean-Baptiste Quiclet, performance director of AG2R-Citroën. “It is impossible to anticipate the situation in two or three months, advances Pierre-Yves Thouault, deputy director of cycling at ASO, organizer of numerous races, including the Tour de France. We are in constant contact with the authorities, who ultimately have the last word. The advantage of this year is that we are not starting from scratch. ”
In such a context, on the side of the teams, when it comes to establishing a calendar for the riders, “The key words are agility, adaptation », Summarizes Jean-Baptiste Quiclet. The main stakeholders do not want to ask too many questions and say they are determined to move forward in their preparation as if nothing had happened, or almost. “You can’t follow the news all the time. I remain confident and I hope that everything will take place ”, says Nans Peters (AG2R-Citroën), winner of the 8e stage of the Tour de France 2020, in Loudenvielle.
“We lose concentration”
This is also what Stefan Küng, the Swiss rider of the Groupama-FDJ formation, says. “If we think that nothing is going to happen, we lose concentration”, he explained during the team’s presentation on January 19. “Even if we have strong pressure from the staff, we have to isolate them from our riders, so that they are focused on their performance, also describes Stephen Delcourt, general manager of the FDJ-Nouvelle-Aquitaine women’s team. One of the great moments of the season for them is the Games, we will do everything to ensure that they are ready, even if the continuation of the Olympics is uncertain. “
While the situation is not yet critical as regards the correct sequence of races, some teams could find themselves in a slightly more comfortable situation than others. The teams of the World Tour, the first division, systematically present in the leading events, can thus count on the fact that the governing bodies of cycling will do everything to preserve them.
In 2020, that’s what happened: the vast majority of one-day classics and the main stage races have been moved from spring to summer, or from summer to fall. – which did not prevent Paris-Roubaix from being canceled, for example.
“Rely primarily on European races”
A shrinking race schedule, with further cancellations, could be more complicated for teams classified in Pro Team, the second division. “We applied for races in Spain, but the World Tour teams have also fallen back on them, like the Tour of Andalusia”, scheduled for February and finally postponed, testifies Didier Rous, sports manager of the B & B Hotels team.
“In 2021, we will rely mainly on European races. We are lucky to have a calendar provided in France ”, details Benoît Génauzeau, sports director within the Total Direct Energie team. For these two French teams, being able to compete in races is all the more important since they still have to win an invitation to the Tour de France in July.
Teams have already anticipated the prospect of an increase in cancellations or postponements of races, which risks leaving riders far from the pelotons and the competition. At AG2R-Citroën, for example, it is envisaged that the training course planned for mid-March, for riders who have driven less at the start of the season, could involve much more than the usual numbers, usually a quarter of the team.
“It is at the end of spring that we will see if any runners have been destabilized by the fear of being late in their preparation”, by training a lot to make up for the lack of races and not recovering enough, anticipates Jean-Baptiste Quiclet.
In the meantime, the runners post their programs. Like Arnaud Démare, the sprinter of Groupama-FDJ, January 22 on his Instagram account. “Hoping that all this can take place”, he said, however.