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Coronavirus: French riders' union requests dispensation to train outdoors from mid-April

TOPSHOT The pack rides in front of Negrescos hotel in Nice during the 1665 km 7th stage of the 78th Paris Nice cycling race stage between Nice and Valdeblore La Colmiane on March 14 2020 The organizers of the 78th ParisNice cycling race announced on March 13 2020 the cancellation of the last stage scheduled for Sunday due to the coronavirus pandemic Photo by Alain JOCARD AFP Photo by ALAIN JOCARDAFP via Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The French professional riders’ union the UNCP has requested for its members to be permitted to train outdoors again from mid-April, when France’s current period of lockdown is due to be revised.

As is the case in much of Europe, professional riders in France are currently unable to train on the road due to the measures enacted to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

France went into lockdown for an initial period of two weeks on March 17 and the order was since extended for a further fortnight. Speaking on TF1 television on Thursday, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that the ongoing lockdown was likely to be extended beyond April 15.

In the meantime, the UNCP has written to the French sports ministry asking that the training needs of professional riders be considered when the government begins relaxing some of its lockdown measures.

“Obviously, I’m thinking above all about bereaved families, carers and the ill, but at the same time, I have to think about my association, which is going to have to pick itself up from what could become a catastrophe,” UNCP president Pascal Chanteur told Ouest France.

“Right now, we are scrupulously respecting the lockdown measures, and that’s completely normal… But in recent days I’ve heard the Minister for Agriculture saying that people who work in the fields need to be helped. I’m seeing also that construction companies can get back to work if they respect the health instructions. I’m saying that we are workers, too, and that we have a profession.”

Chanteur and the UNCP have requested that professional riders be given dispensation to train on the road when the second fortnight of lockdown comes to an end on April 15.

“We would like that after the second fortnight of confinement – that is, from April 15 – riders could return to work, with dispensation and a certificate from their employer,” Chanteur said. “They would do that alone, outdoors and, why not, only for an hour or two… Because a cyclist, if he completely respects the health measures and physical distancing, should also be able to start working again.”

France has reported over 82,000 confirmed cases and more than 6,500 deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, while over 6,600 people are currently being treated in intensive care units.

The sustained pressure on the health system is a most compelling argument against allowing professionals to train on the road, as cyclists who crash and require medical treatment would be an additional burden to accident and emergency wards.

“But in construction, there are 400 work accidents per day, whereas with us, it’s 4-7 a year among professional cyclists,” Chanteur said. “And there would be even fewer risks considering the low amount of traffic at the moment.”

The French Cycling Federation (FFC) was a co-signatory of the UNCP letter, though president Michel Callot described the move as “above all, an avenue of reflection.”

Rather than focus specifically on the April 15 date, Callot requested that professional riders be permitted to start training once the French government begins to relax its confinement measures against the spread of Covid-19.

“This deconfinement won’t happen in one swoop,” Callot told Ouest France. “Our position is thus to ask that all professional riders can start training again from the start of the deconfinement. Of course, they would start training alone and perhaps in specifically defined places. Personally, I had thought, for example, of military camps or motor-racing circuits.”

On Wednesday, the UCI confirmed that all bike racing is currently suspended until June 1. The Critérium du Dauphiné, scheduled for May 31 to June 7, has been postponed, while the Tour de Suisse (June 7-14) has been cancelled altogether.

The Tour de France remains scheduled to take place from June 27 to July 19, but UCI vice-president Renato Di Rocco has suggested that July 1, July 15 or August 1 are considered as the possible dates for the start of a post-coronavirus calendar.