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Deceuninck-Quickstep: Tour de France riders will likely get priority when racing resumes

Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot
Julian Alaphilippe leading the 2019 Tour de France (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

With all races cancelled well into May and plenty of uncertainty as to when racing will resume, professional riders have been given a rest week to dial back on their form in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Cyclingnews spoke to Deceuninck-QuickStep's trainer Koen Pelgrim to see what his riders are doing during the pause in racing.

Deceuninck-QuickStep and the rest of the peloton had their first hint of the escalating pandemic at the UAE Tour on February 27 when the virus popped up in the race entourage. Pelgrim recalled the shock and stress of those first days when this new virus - SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, as the disease is called - first touched professional cycling.

"It was a stressful situation for them being there, and it was the early stages of the situation that we have now, so nobody was really aware of how big of a threat the situation was going to be. I think it was a bit of a shock to see that the coronavirus was already present amongst people working in cycling because until then it was just a city far away in China and a few people in Italy," Pelgrim told Cyclingnews.

Luckily none of the team's staff or riders became infected and they were allowed to go home. Riders from the UAE Team Emirates and Gazprom-Rusvelo, however, remained for weeks after testing positive.

It was just a taste of things to come for pro riders who, after exponential spread and mounting death tolls, would face cancelled races, restrictions on going out to train, upended season goals and the frustration of 'social distancing' in what is normally a social, goal-driven lifestyle.

"We have to readjust the whole plan. Normally, you know what you're working towards but now nobody really knows, which makes it difficult," Pelgrim said. "Everybody has to reset a little bit and to go more into a long-term program.

"What we did with most riders was to give them an easy week just to reset the reset this system a little bit, to recharge both physically and mentally and let the shape drop a little bit because it doesn't make any sense to keep training hard if there aren't any races in the next couple of weeks.

"Usually you want to spend some time on gym training and core training, because once the races start it's very difficult to continue with that. Gym training can be very useful especially for sprinters and those kinds of riders. So they for sure now that have long periods in which they can start doing that. For them, it's back to sort of a December programme."

There is little indication of when racing will be able to resume as the virus shows no signs of slowing its march across Europe. "I think the earliest we will be racing again is the end of May or June, the period of the Dauphine and these kinds of races," Pelgrim speculated. Riders would only need a few weeks to prepare once events go forward, but it looks unlikely that if the Tour de France does go on that the usual pre-Tour altitude camps will happen.

"I don't look at altitude camps because of the uncertainty. Because most of them would be at this time of the year would be in Spain, Sierra Nevada, Tenerife, and later in the season in Italy - Livigno, that area. As the situation is now it is of course impossible to do something like that now. And we also don't know how long that's going to last.

One thing is certain: once there is a chance to race, the competition is going to be intense to make the team.

"Let's assume it did start again in June, all 28 riders will be dying to race, but then it's probably going to be a matter of priority because if we begin racing again in June, the Tour de France will probably happen as well. So now we would probably give priority to riders who will be going to the Tour in order to make sure that they get the preparation for the Tour as needed."

As for the others, the pressure will be on to make the team for races, especially for riders in contract years. Depending on what the UCI decides there might be a glut of races in the late-season.

"We don't know what the calendar will look like in the second half of the season... if they really want to reschedule all the races that they have cancelled now or if everything is just going to be cancelled and yeah, we just start again with the Classics next year. That's all going to be a big part of the puzzle that we need to know when we start making race programs again."

On the plus side, the rest period now will position riders to be able to handle a busy September or October.

"With the period of time off now, they can handle more race days later in the season. But you can't just add everything and then see how it goes.

"I just think it's going to be very difficult if we are going to add all these other races into the existing calendar. We have a limited amount of riders in the team," Pelgrim said.

"I think that the UCI has to come up with a new calendar as soon as anything is clear on how the situation is going to evolve. For the moment, nobody really knows."