British Cycling is hosting race simulations during a three-day training session this weekend at the Manchester Velodrome, Cyclingnews learned on Friday. The event takes place after the UK moved into a national lockdown and stay at home recommendation on January 5 amid surging coronavirus cases.
The gathering will bring together 90 riders who are part of the Olympic Games podium programme or in the talent pathways, together with coaches, timers, officials and mechanics across three days.
Stephen Park, Performance Director for British Cycling, explained that that the training sessions are allowed under British elite sports exemptions to the lockdowns.
"As part of our preparations for the forthcoming Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, and as a development opportunity for our pathway riders, we are holding race simulation activity during our training sessions in our regular training venue, the National Cycling Centre, which has been in use since reopening in May last year."
Although some on social media are calling the gathering a 'secret national championships' Cyclingnews understands that no titles will be awarded, and British Cycling were clear that it is not an official race. The gathering in Manchester this weekend will bring together athletes from across the UK but riders will be practicing physical distancing when possible. Cyclingnews understands that between events riders will be required to leave the velodrome.
However, the optics of such a gathering only three weeks after COVID-19 cases in the UK reached a record peak of 68,000 new cases in one day on January 8 appear to have kept news of it under wraps.
Although the surge has eased, with a seven-day average of 28,000 new cases per day this week, the rate of new infections is still far higher than the first outbreak last April. Over 100,000 people have died in the UK from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
The UK has shut down most indoor sports facilities, as well as golf courses and swimming pools, but has made exemptions for elite athletes, their coaches and parents or guardians if they are under the age of 18 - or those on an official elite sports pathway to be allowed to meet in larger groups to train and compete.
Hotels are closed for holiday accommodations but are allowed to open for elite athletes who need to train.
"Under the current Government guidance, elite training and competition can continue and stringent COVID protocols are being followed at all times, as they always are in our training sessions," Park said.
"We acknowledge that as an elite sports team, we are in an extremely privileged position to be able to continue with our operations, and the race simulation activity forms part of our strategy to ensure we are on track to achieve our ambitions in Tokyo and Paris."
The large gathering of athletes and staff from the UK highlights the same conundrums that faced the Olympic Games organisers in 2020, when athletes and national Olympic committees complained that varying national lockdowns created an unfair playing field and put pressure on athletes to take risks of contracting COVID-19 to prepare for the Olympic Games.
The lockdowns also had an impact on anti-doping activity and led the cancellation of numerous qualifying events, making the 2020 event impossible.
The IOC rescheduled the Tokyo Games for July of this year in hopes that rapidly available vaccinations and measures to control the pandemic would succeed. Instead, attempts to impose lockdowns have led to protests and riots this month in the Netherlands, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Denmark, Canada, Austria - similar to those that took place in 2020.
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