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Knaven: Riders will start Tour de France with February form

Michal Kwiatkowski leads Egan Bernal on the final stage of the 2019 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

Team Ineos directeur sportif Servais Knaven has suggested the British team will stick to their plans for the Tour de France and name Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome as team leaders. However, he warned that the disruption and five months without racing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will mean riders will start the Tour with the equivalent of just the early-season Ruta del Sol in their legs, as if they were racing in February. 

"This is a kind of winter period but now riders will start a big race like the Tour with the legs that you normally have for the Ruta del Sol," Knaven told Belgian television channel Sporza in a video interview.

"The positive thing is that it's the same for everyone. Everyone will be missing some strength and rhythm."

The UCI announced the dates for the new-look season this week, with all the biggest WorldTour races and the three Grand Tours packed into a 71-day period between August 1 and November 8.

The Tour de France, if local authorities deem the COVID-19 pandemic is under control and allow the sport's biggest race to go ahead, will start in Nice on August 29 and end in Paris on September 20. The only preparation races will be Tour de L'Ain (August 7-9) and the reduced Critérium du Dauphiné (August 12-16), if French authorities allow the races to be held with regulated numbers of public and with a strict medical protocol for the riders and team staff.

The Giro d'Italia is scheduled for October 3-25, with the Vuelta a España from October 20-November 8, with the one-day Classics spread across the autumn. October 25 looks set to be a 'Super Sunday' of cycling, with Paris-Roubaix on the same day as the final stage of the Giro d'Italia and the queen stage of the Vuelta to the summit of the Tourmalet.

Team Ineos had planned to target the Giro d'Italia with 2019 winner Richard Carapaz, while Bernal, Thomas and Froome focus on the Tour de France. Despite a number of new logistical issues, those plans remain.  

"Luxury is nice, but it doesn't always make it easier," Knaven, acknowledging the strength in depth of the Team Ineos roster. "It will be quite a puzzle, also for the other teams. There are enough riders to fill the races, but I also have look at the staff and the logistics element.

"We have six team leaders. Normally three will go to a Grand Tour and two team leaders to the Classics but that doesn't fit anymore. It has always been the plan to send Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal to the Tour. Nothing is 100 per cent decided but we're still thinking about that approach.

"The situation is a bit different for Richard Carapaz. The Tour has been moved back two months from the original date, the Giro five months. Mentally that is a lot harder and we'll have to look to see what else he can do."

Like their major rivals, Team Ineos have already begun to study possible racing and training schedules. Their riders are under different lockdown rules, with some in Monaco and the south of France, where training outdoors will be permitted from Monday May 11. Others can already ride outdoors in Italy and Spain. Thomas is in Wales, where riding is limited, while Bernal has only recently returned to training outdoors in Colombia after special permission from his local major.

Riders are likely to return to their European bases soon to begin serious training and avoid any qaurantine problems.

"Strategic choices have to be made," Knaven said. "When will someone return to Europe? Do you risk doing it as late as possible or not do it, because there may be a period of quarantine?

"The same goes for the boys in the US. And even in Europe we have to wait and see what is allowed. 

I don't think Egan is worried about that right now. He's in the right place. But it is not possible that he will come to Europe three days in advance after he has been in Colombia for half a year. The more the races near, the more nervous the riders will become, but not yet."

Team doctors are already working on medical protocols for races and training camps. Some riders maybe able to travel to the mountains for altitude camps but they will be in small groups, perhaps with a local soigneur to help them.  

"All teams will take a close look at that. No one knows what will be possible in two weeks, let alone the end of June. You have to think up a lot of scenarios and, when the time comes, you have to run one of those scenarios," Knaven said.

"It is better to have a calendar than no calendar."