The latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is already inflicting its disruptions on pro cyclists, with three Lotto Soudal riders forced to swap high-altitude Rwandan air for a tent-based simulation.
Victor Campenaerts has made several forays to Africa for altitude training in recent years, notably heading to Namibia to prepare for his successful 2019 UCI Hour Record Attempt.
Ahead of the 2022 season, he had planned to travel to Rwanda with teammates Florian Vermeersch and Brent Van Moer, as an add-on to a full Lotto Soudal training camp in Spain in January.
However, travel restrictions and quarantine requirements have made the trip impossible.
"We don't want to take any risks, certainly not now that we're in wave 26," Campenaerts told Sporza.
"Currently, you also have to quarantine for three days when you arrive in Rwanda. If that continues, we will be further from home."
Instead, Campenaerts, Vermeersch, and Van Moer will leave the Lotto Soudal training camp on January 19 and head to a different hotel just down the road in south east Spain.
They will simulate the effects of altitude training by sleeping and eating in hypoxic tents. Also known as hyperbaric chambers, these tents simulate the atmospheric pressure of high altitude, with the reduced oxygen saturation forcing the body to produce more red blood cells.
"We can spend our time there at a simulated height. We have all booked our own room plus a fourth room that we can set up as a living room," Campenaerts explained.
"We will also eat in that living room, to live at maximum height."
Campenaerts is no stranger to hypoxic tents. Two years ago, his winter regime consisted of sleeping at a virtual altitude of 4,700 metres and even spending an hour a day at 10,000 metres - more than a kilometre higher than the summit of Everest.
The use of altitude tents is permitted by WADA, though they have caused concern in the past, with WADA considering banning them back in 2006. The organisation's ethics committee deemed them "probably contrary to the spirit of sport", though no action was taken. They have also been banned in certain countries.
Campenaerts himself courted controversy two years ago when he suggested the practise enabled him "to feel like a rider who took EPO".
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