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Guercilena: We've got to have the courage to continue racing in 2021

Kenny Elissonde and Richie Porte go deep for Vincenzo Nibali at 2020 Paris-Nice
Kenny Elissonde and Richie Porte go deep for Vincenzo Nibali, who would finish fourth at 2020 Paris-Nice (Image credit: Getty Images)

Trek-Segafredo Manager Luca Guercilena, like almost everyone in professional cycling, let out a sigh of relief on Monday, happy that the Vuelta a Espanña reached Madrid and that the rescheduled WorldTour calendars were largely completed despite the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

The pandemic sparked the suspension of racing from March until late July, but since then all three Grand Tours, the Giro Rosa and the major Classics and other races have been held successfully. 

There were crowd restrictions at races and occasional COVID-19 cases in the peloton but protective bubbles and constant testing kept everyone relatively safe.

Some teams faced significant salary sacrifices to stay alive as their sponsors failed to respect their agreements, and team budgets and rider salaries will reduce for 2021, but at least 18 men’s WorldTour teams have registered for 2021 and nine women’s teams have requested WorldTour status.

The Trek-Segafredo men's team only won three races in the rescheduled season and Vincenzo Nibali failed to compete against his younger rivals at the Giro d’Italia. However, Richie Porte ended his time at the team with third at the Tour de France and Mads Pedersen won Gent-Wevelgem.

Lizzie Diegnan won the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes and La Course by Le Tour de France, while Elisa Longo Borghini finally won a stage at the Giro Rosa and won a bronze medal at the World Championships behind Anna van der Breggen (Boels–Dolmans) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton–Scott).

Guercilena and his staff are still reviewing the season to understand what went right and what went wrong. Both the Trek-Segafredo men’s and women’s teams will remain largely unchanged for 2021, building on the significant roster changes introduced for 2020.

For now, Guercilena is happy the sport completed the restructured season, knowing it was vital for the survival of the leading teams and of the sport as a whole. Other sports face far more serious financial problems, while professional cycling has so far survived.     

“We’ve lived day to day in recent months but it’s been worth it,” Guercilena told Cyclingnews.

“We’ve all been talking and working together since March to ensure that the racing goes ahead and that cycling manages to hold onto the advantage we’ve now created on other sports. We proved to the world we could do it and that’s something we should all be proud of.

“Road racing is an outdoor sport and so could go ahead after the spring lockdown. It was a lot of stress but I think the protective bubbles worked. At Trek-Segafredo, we took extra precautions like having riders in single rooms, we had our own cook and even a separate person to do the shopping to protect the team bubble. It all made a difference.”  

Guercilena and his staff have been planning and preparing for 2021 for a while. The 2021 Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race have been cancelled, but much of the European calendar is expected to go ahead, learning from the problems overcome in 2020.

“We’re facing a complex season next year, where there could be a vaccine but there also might not be. We’ve got to be ready to use everything that helped this year,” Guercilena said.

“I’m just talking about my teams or my own country of Italy but the whole sport, including the race organisers, the riders, the teams and the fans. We’ve learnt how to do it this year, so now we’ve got to have the courage to continue racing in 2021.” 

Guercilena admitted he did not like the position taken by the EF Pro Cycling team at the Giro d’Italia and their letter calling for the race to end early. He wants the different teams and stakeholders in professional cycling to see other sports as their rivals rather than continually competing against each other.

“An individual opinion can be perceived in so many different ways and by so many different people. We can all have different views but we shouldn’t miss the chance to work together for the wider good of the sport and so the wider good of the cycling business that props it up,” he warned. 

“We’ve got to understand that cycling has a significant turnover, it moves millions. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed our weakness but also showed our strengths compared to other sports. If we turn on each other, then things will continue like always, with soccer and other sports staying in control of the global sport business and staying ahead of professional cycling.

"The world will eventually recover and emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and we’ve got a chance to come out of this stronger than before if we stay united and continue to show the strength and beauty of our sport.”