Ben Hermans was originally slated to make his Tour de France debut in 2020 but the Israel Start-Up Nation rider has opted out of the rescheduled event, warning of the psychological impact of the social isolation required of participants both before and during the race.
The Tour was postponed from July to its new dates of August 29 to September 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which caused the suspension of the international cycling season in March.
The campaign is set to resume later this month but while Hermans will return to action at the Vuelta a Burgos, he told Het Nieuwsblad that he is "99 per cent certain" to forgo the Tour.
"Recently I got my hands on a 13-page document from our team, full of restrictions imposed by the UCI on the teams. That note got me thinking. The social isolation in which riders are going to end up shouldn't be underestimated," Hermans told Het Nieuwsblad.
Riders will stay in single rooms on the 2020 Tour as part of measures aimed to at curbing the risks posed by the spread of COVID-19, but Hermans pointed out that riders must also effectively isolate themselves for a long period in the build-up to the three-week race.
"An altitude training camp prior to the Tour is three weeks away from home," Hermans said. "Then when you get home, you're not allowed to see anyone except your family members. Moreover, during that home quarantine you have to have two molecular detection tests carried out.
"You will have to undergo the same test every week during a Grand Tour, on the rest day for example. During a Grand Tour, you'll soon be away from home for four weeks, staying strictly within the bubble of your team. If you put all that together, you've hardly seen your loved ones for seven to eight weeks."
While much has been written about the physiological impact of the hiatus from competition and the condensed Autumn calendar that follows, Hermans noted that little thought had been devoted to the loneliness of riding a three-week Tour at a time of physical distancing.
"The factor of social isolation has remained underexposed until now, but it’s known that performance is very dependent on the mental state of the rider," Hermans said. "Some will be able to cope better than others. But those who are sensitive to social contact are going to suffer. You're more isolated than normal in this kind of Grand Tour."
Hermans will, however, race at least one Grand Tour in 2020. The 34-year-old is set to bring the curtain down on his season at the shortened Vuelta a España, which takes place over 18 stages from October 20-November 8.
A crash at the Tour Down Under restricted Hermans to just two race days thus far in 2020, as he suffered a complex shoulder fracture, broken collarbone and fractured ribs in the incident. He will resume his campaign at the Vuelta a Burgos later this month and is also pencilled in to ride Gran Piemonte, Il Lombardia, Tirreno-Adriatico, Flèche Wallonne, Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège before he lines out at the Vuelta a España.
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