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Mitchelton-Scott draw up COVID-19 safety measures as team finalises calendar

Mitchelton-Scott’s Annemiek Van Vleuten celebrates victory at the 2020 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Mitchelton-Scott team is preparing to return to racing this month, with their men's and women's teams resuming the COVID-19 affected road season in Spain.

With the Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa and Clasica Femenina Navarra women's races and the Vuelta a Burgos men's stage race coming in the next few weeks, the team has created its own 'RACESAFE' policies to keep their riders and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those measures include a programme of monitoring and COVID-19 testing of all members in the team 'bubble', additional sanitisation protocols, the presence of a team doctor at each race and a prohibition on taking selfies with fans or signing autographs.

There are also protocols for interaction with the media – with two-metre distancing, mask requirements and dedicated time slots for interviews at the team bus and start line.

The races will be both the first since the season screeched to a halt in March and the debut of new team management, with Darach McQuaid joining as 'Chairman' alongside new General Manager Brent Copeland, who moved across from Bahrain McLaren.

Former manager Shayne Bannan left the organisation after eight years following the failed takeover by the Manuela Fundación. The Spanish NGO had offered €10 million to purchase the team's WorldTour licence but the deal disintegrated last month.

Matt White, the men's teams head directeur sportif, has added some non-WorldTour races to the calendar including the 1.Pro-ranked Milano-Torino, Gran Piemonte and Gran Trittico Lombardo, which replaces the Coppa Agostoni, Coppa Bernocchi and Tre Valli Varesine for this year, as well as the 2.1-ranked Czech Tour (August 6-9) before the Tour de France and the Tour de Hungary before the Giro d'Italia.

"We've selected the additional races outside the WorldTour races for a combination of reasons," White said. "One is to prepare for bigger races and our bigger targets which is obviously the three Grand Tours and certain one-day races. Another is to give everyone races. The WorldTour alone is not enough to give 28 guys racing and we also want to provide a mix in style of racing between stage and one-day races."

Mitchelton-Scott scored eight victories and four national championships before the coronavirus pandemic stopped all sporting events, with Adam Yates win in the UAE Tour and world champion Annemiek van Vleuten's solo victory in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the stand-out results.

Since then, many of the riders were subject to strict quarantines in March and April before countries such as Italy and Spain slowly began loosening restrictions as COVID-19 cases declined. Teams are still grappling with the recommendations of the UCI for resuming races and deciding what is best for their teams – either remaining as one unit during preparations for racing to resume or splitting into bubbles. The team did not detail its strategy but White says the riders are anxious to get racing again.

"We haven't pushed things on riders, but we have a very self-motivated group. Everyone has handled it well, everyone is raring to go," White said. "I don't think there's any excuses coming back to racing. Even though as a team we had probably 90% of riders off the road for two months, everyone had a home trainer and a long-enough window on the road that racing is going to be even when we start back.

"It's like the start of the season and the end of the season all at the same time. Guys know, regardless of their race program, that the start of August is game on. The whole bunch will be ready and motivated."

The men's team will have 117 days of racing across 30 events in nine different countries, while the women's programme is far more limited, with 32 race days and 17 events in six countries.

"We will start racing in Basque, which will be a good opportunity to get everyone back together and good preparation for Strade Bianche," women's DS Martin Vestby said. "Also, with the COVID-19 situation, we feel that after such a long break it's good to relax back into racing, to see how the different protocols will be implemented rather than find our feet at a WorldTour race.

"We have riders with the capability to perform in a lot of the races we will start, so with this compromised schedule I would say we have quite a big target on every race we will start.

"The girls have done really well with how they have approached this period. When we saw this was going to last quite a long time, they changed training approach to keep a basic condition. Now, as we're getting closer to racing, intensity has increased for race preparation. We can see mentally that they are really looking forward to going back to racing and are enthusiastic about the last work that needs to be put down now."