Mathieu van der Poel has said he will prioritize the Tokyo Olympic Games and may have to miss the 2021 Tour de France after reports emerged that athletes will have to quarantine in Japan for 14 days before competition starts.
The 2021 Tour de France is scheduled to end in Paris on July 18, with the men’s road race just six days later on Saturday, July 24. The men aren't the only ones with tough choices to make in their 2021 programmes: the women’s road race on Sunday, July 25 comes 14 days after the finish of the Giro Rosa on July 11.
Van der Poel will target the men’s mountain bike race in Tokyo, which comes later in the Games on July 26 but still only eight days after the finish of the Tour. He told VTM Nieuws before winning the Ethias Cross in Bredene on Wednesday that despite earlier reports, if a 14-day quarantine is required he would choose the Olympic Games over the Tour de France.
Van der Poel had recently confirmed he would ride the Tour de France after his Alpecin-Fenix team was assured an invitation to all WorldTour races in 2021.
Riders and national team staff were expected to travel to Japan after the Tour de France and Giro Rosa, with limited quarantines because they were part of pre-race UCI-sanctioned bubbles, had quarantined before travel or had even been vaccinated against COVID-19.
A so called ‘Athlete Track’ system had been planned, with athletes screened several times instead of serving quarantine. However, new rules emerging from Japan called for a 14-day quarantine period, and on Monday, Japan suspended entry into the country for non-resident foreign nationals arriving from most of the world. Japanese authorities are also not convinced that vaccination can stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus as a new highly infectious variant has begun to circulate.
The daily number of new COVID-19 coronavirus cases in Japan reached 3,608 on Tuesday, rising above the 3,000 mark for the first time in three days. The number of severely ill patients in Tokyo remains at its highest level since early May. Those numbers are lower than other parts of the world but are a concern for Japan officials, who want to apply the same rules to the general public and athletes.
The need to respect a 14-day quarantine period could force a number of major riders to choose between the Tour de France and the Olympic Games.
Remco Evenepoel, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Vincenzo Nibali are expected to ride the Giro d’Italia in May but Julian Alaphilippe, Wout van Aert, Primoz Roglic, Tadej Pogacar, Marc Hirschi and 2016 Olympic road champion Greg van Avermaet are all expected to ride the Tour de France, with their professional teams unlikely to let them miss the sport's biggest Grand Tour.
“Two weeks ago we received the latest version of their requirements from the organizers in Tokyo and it states that they will stick to the 14-day quarantine after arriving in Japan," Johan Bellemans, the chief physician of the Belgian Olympic Committee told Sporza.
"Logistically, this quarantine period is not easy for the athletes in terms of training and will also overlap with other events, just think of the Tour de France, Wimbledon and the NBA.
"If it was up to the IOC, the quarantine period would be much shorter. It’s the Japanese authorities who are sticking to the two-week quarantine."
As of publication, the UCI has not responded to request for comment when contacted by Cyclingnews. However, Tom Van Damme, the head of Belgian Cycling and president of the Professional Cycling Council, indicated cycling would have to accept the 14-day quarantine rule if it was still in place later in 2021.
“I am sure that the UCI will take this up with the IOC but whether we can change the decision is another matter,” he told Sporza.
“Either way, it will be great that the Games can take place. If other sports have to comply with the quarantine rule, cycling should do the same.”
Van Avermaet offered two solutions: a reduction in the quarantine or moving the date of the road race events to the end of the Olympic schedule.
"If the riders have to choose between the Tour and the Games, you will not have the strongest field in Tokyo," he told Sporza.
"The quarantine must be shortened from 14 days to, for example, 5 days or the road race and time trial must be moved to the end of the Olympic Games. That way we can undergo that 14-day quarantine and it is possible to participate in the Tour and the Games."
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