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Tour Down Under assessing plans to proceed with January races

Richie Porte gets some podium time
Richie Porte won overall title at 2020 Santos Tour Down Under (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Teams will almost certainly have to quarantine in order to compete at the 2021 Santos Tour Down Under, which may provoke a rejig of the Australian summer cycling calendar.

Organisers remain confident the women’s and men’s tours will run as originally scheduled, from January 14-24, but have indicated the “traditional format” of the event will change amid the ever-changing protocols for the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The Santos Women’s Tour Down Under is scheduled for January 14-17, while the men’s edition begins on January 17 with the Schwalbe Classic Criterium and the six stages of road racing from January 19-24.

The Australian summer calendar starts in January with the Lexus of Blackburn Bay Crits and national road championships in Victoria, which is currently on lockdown, followed by Down Under in South Australia and then February’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and Herald Sun Tour, both also in Victoria.

The 2021 Herald Sun Tour has already been rescheduled to February 2022, and Cyclingnews understands that the dates of the Bay Crits and national championships may shift depending on Tour Down Under quarantine protocols and the consequent movements of riders and teams.

Events South Australia Executive Directeur Hitaf Rasheed said Down Under organisers, yet to announce the 2021 race routes, are reviewing aspects of the popular WorldTour opener.

“With the borders as they are, teams will definitely need to quarantine,” Rasheed said. “We are still working through what quarantine would look like and how this would work for the teams, including the need to train through this period.

“To be very clear, as much as we love the Santos Tour Down Under, the health and safety of South Australians, and our community is our absolute priority.”

Fan access and the set-up of the event, which normally operates out of one central hotel to accommodate all teams, race personnel and select media, are part of the review.

“All involved would love to see the event progress, however equally there are threshold issues, which could impact on our ability to deliver the event in the traditional format, or indeed threshold issues for teams to participate, based on their needs for the first UCI WorldTour race of the year,” said Rasheed. 

“Examples include our ability to deliver the required density, distancing and contact tracing at stage starts and finishes, as well as the ability to meet the needs of the teams to prepare for the first race of the season in a quarantine environment. All of these items are being considered and worked through with key stakeholders.”

Rasheed said Down Under organisers would apply learnings to their event from the Tour de France and UCI Road World Championships, which ran without disruptions.

“The way we deliver and run our stages, participation events and event festivities will certainly be different. 2021 will mean changes to the known format,” she said. “We are reviewing our race stages, participation events, and the way we host competitors to ensure we are COVID-compliant. 

“Our aim is to deliver a COVID-safe event for our competitors, the teams, for South Australia and Santos Tour Down Under fans. Information on race stages, smaller public events, international race guests and community participation will be announced as soon as we are in a position to do so. 

“Any event we do would need to have an approved COVID Management Plan by SA Health, and we are currently working on those in line with our scenario planning.”

There are some WorldTour teams that typically arrive in Australia weeks before Down Under to adjust to the time zone and capitalise on training in warmer weather, staying outside of the Adelaide CBD, which they relocate to ahead of the race. Yet they do that often with the view of staying for a month-long block or more that incorporates Down Under and for many the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, which is also a WorldTour event.

Travel to, from and within Australia is currently restricted due to the pandemic.

Cycling Australia sport manager Kipp Kauffman anticipates an announcement regarding the national road championships and the summer calendar will be made this month.

"CA continues to work with the South Australian and Victorian governments to ascertain the best outcome for the summer of cycling and will announce later in October,” Kauffman said.