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De Backer: How stressful will this period have been for riders?

Vital Concept-B&B Hotels’ Bert De Backer works hard during the 2019 Baloise Belgium Tour
Vital Concept-B&B Hotels’ Bert De Backer works hard during the 2019 Baloise Belgium Tour (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

B&B Hotels-Vital Concept's Bert De Backer has said that while he believes he and his fellow pros will return to racing with all guns blazing, he's also questioned what kind of effect the stress of cycling's coronavirus shutdown might have taken on riders' mental health.

The experienced Belgian, who spent five seasons at WorldTour level with Team Sunweb in their various guises, and the four previous season with them at Pro Continental level, joined his current French ProTeam at the start of 2018.

While still Belgium-based, he's had fewer government sanctions placed on him compared to many of his French teammates, who weren't allowed to ride outside, but the period without racing and a lack of knowing when competition would recommence has nevertheless been hard on everyone, De Backer told Sporza.be on Sunday.

"As riders, we're not used to being in the same situation for five weeks," he said. "Finishing five weeks of training rides on the same roads, and without a real goal, was something completely new and not always easy.

"I often wondered if I was doing the right thing. I trained 20 hours a week, but was riding aimlessly," De Backer said.

"If and when we resume competition, I think everyone will be in top condition," he continued. "But the question is, how mentally stressful has this period been for riders? That could have an impact on the rest of the season."

The opportunity to race again has given De Backer hope that goal-setting will allow him to enjoy the second half of this shortened season.

"When we got clarity about the calendar, I took 10 days' rest. After that rest period, I knew what I was doing again. I had goals again and felt like I was 20. I'm really looking forward to it."

While many riders' main hope – as it is most years – is to ride the Tour de France, the French three-week race this year at least appears to be more pivotal than ever, coming first of this year's three Grand Tours due to the rescheduled calendar.

"I'm just being objective when I say that I'm not in the first rung of riders likely to go to the Tour," said De Backer, whose team received a wildcard invitation for this year's postponed race. "I also don't know if I need to ride the Tour to be happy. But if I'm good enough and do end up going, I'll be giving it everything I've got."

Regardless of whether he starts the Tour in Nice on August 29, the winner of the 2013 GP Jef Scherens is fully focused on Paris-Roubaix – a race at which he took 20th place last season, while his career-best finish in 10 editions of 'The Hell of the North' remains 11th in 2014.

This year, Roubaix is set to be ridden on October 25, which surely increases the chances of rain compared to its usual April time slot. The last wet edition of the race took place back in 2002, and De Backer points out that none of the riders that started that day are still racing professionally today.

"I'm especially curious to see how it goes," he said. "In the spring, the weather is getting better every day towards Paris-Roubaix; this year it will be getting progressively worse towards the race.

"No one in the peloton has ridden 'Hell' on wet cobbles, so it's difficult for any of us to know what it might be like. I've certainly only ever shown that I can follow the best when it's dry.

"But racing at Roubaix is always a dream, and I won't be sad if I don't finish on the podium or in the top 10," De Backer said. "Experience is becoming more and more important for me, and last year I thought I could easily race for a few more years.

"At first, it felt as though it might be difficult to renew my contract. In the end, though, I had a lot of fun last season. I had 0 per cent certainty about my future and just rode for myself. It ended up being a fantastic season, and in the autumn I rode my best Paris-Tours ever," he said, with the 36-year-old taking eighth place at the French one-day race last October.