As professional cycling teams, riders and race organisers hold a key conference call with the UCI on Wednesday about saving the 2020 road season, three possible dates have emerged for a return to racing, depending on how Europe emerges from the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The idea of holding the Tour de France on the scheduled dates of June 27-July 19, perhaps somehow 'behind closed doors,' appears to have been abandoned. UCI vice-president Renato Di Rocco has revealed that July 1, July 15 and August 1 are now considered as possible dates for the start of the post-coronavirus calendar, with the Tour de France seen as vital for the survival of a number of major men's teams.
However, any return to racing will only begin when cases of Covid-19 have fallen dramatically, countries have emerged from lockdown and life begins to return to normal.
UCI President David Lappartient said recently that he will "try to protect what makes the richness of our sport: the Grand Tours and the Monuments, for both men and women," suggesting that the sport's biggest races might be given priority over other races scheduled for the second half of the season.
Di Rocco explained that riders would be given a window of 30 days to train for the return to racing, possibly with minor races held to allow riders to prepare for the Tour de France. Riders in France, Italy and Spain have been forced to train indoors in recent weeks, while Britain, Belgium and other nations have more permissive national rules, leading to suggestions that the difference could lead to a two-speed Tour when racing eventually resumes.
Teams have said they are willing to race a triple programme later in the season, but there are concerns about the freedom of movement of riders and staff across Europe and the need for periods of quarantine for athletes travelling from certain countries where the pandemic is emerging at a slower pace.
"We're working based on the indications of the medical experts but we've identified three possible scenarios: starting again from July 1, from July 15 or from August 1," Di Rocco told Italian national broadcaster RAI on Tuesday evening.
"We're ready to move things forward or back, but whatever we do, we’ll give riders at least a month to train as best as possible."
With the Tour de France generating between 70 and 80 percent of team sponsors' value each season, the race is deemed as decisive to help teams survive and shore up support from their backers. Di Rocco foresees a Grand Tour being held each month in the summer, with other stage races and the Classics held around them.
Last week, Cyclingnews drew up a possible new calendar, with the Giro d'Italia perhaps held in early October, with the Classics held each weekend after the Tour de France and into September, and with the Vuelta a Espana running on its original dates of August 14-September 6. The European Road Race championships are scheduled to be held in Trento, Italy between September 9-13. The UCI has already said that the racing season could be extended until November 1.
"The Tour de France organisers said they'll hold off any decision until May 15 but the best solution would be to have a Grand Tour each month. Cycling has to restart with the biggest and most important races," Di Rocco said.
On Tuesday, the UCI and local organisers angered some stakeholders by confirming the dates of the Road Race World Championships in Switzerland, near the UCI headquarters in Aigle. This was seen as a move to give precedence to the World Championship organisers and so protect their television rights income.
The elite men's time trial will be held on Sunday September 20, with the other events during the following week. Jumbo-Visma team manager Richard Plugge suggested on Twitter that the weekend of September 20 should have been kept free for 'serious organizers' with the elite men's time trial moved to midweek, replacing the mixed team time trial event.
"Many organizers, teams and riders are very unsure whether there will be any racing in the coming months. And even before that has been discussed with anyone, the UCI throws out the World Championship programme," Plugge told Dutch radio station NPO1.
"It gives me the feeling that they're saying: 'Before we give others a place, we already take those two weekends.' That's a bad signal to the rest of the cycling world and testifies poor leadership."
Plugge believes that the weekend of September 19-20 should be available for a major Classic that was postponed from the spring.
"The Tour of Flanders, for example, or Milan-San Remo, the Monuments that Lappartient says should be protected. If he really means that he should keep that weekend for them," Plugge said. "Everything is now in the air, the whole calendar, so you can rearrange it however you want. Lappartient always talks about the 'Cycling Family.' He should think more about that family."
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