Rigoberto Uran has suggested just three men's WorldTour teams would survive and if the 2020 Tour de France was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, warning the loss of the sport's biggest race would spark a "great economic crisis."
The 33-year-old highlighted the problems for ordinary people in his native Colombia and said he felt especially sorry for the young riders entering the sport like his EF Pro Cycling teammates Dani Martinez and Sergio Higuita.
Last week, EF Pro Cycling confirmed that the team is negotiating with riders and staff to cut salaries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports in the Netherlands suggested that riders face a 44 per cent salary cut in order to pay people during 2020 after team owner EF Education First made considerable job cuts. Uran confirmed the amount was around 40 per cent.
ASO and the UCI announced last week that the Tour de France would be held two months later than planned, between August 29 and September 30, but medical experts quickly suggested it could be a "recipe for disaster," with a second wave of COVID-19 contagion expected in the autumn as European nations try to ease their lockdown restrictions and stimulate their economies.
“Cycling is a poor sport because it’s only supported by business, if the Tour is not held it would be a catastrophe," Uran said in a long interview with the Colombian Cycling Federation website.
"For example, of the 18 [WorldTour] teams, only three could survive, and the others face a very complicated future. Right now, there are only three teams that are economically strong. There are only a few businesses in the world doing well at the moment. If this keeps going, there’s going to be a crisis, and when a company needs to make cuts, they begin with their marketing plans and that will impact cycling."
The suspension of professional racing until at least late July and August will give Uran time to recover fully from the severe injuries he suffered on stage 6 of the Vuelta a Espana. He suffered a fractured shoulder blade and collarbone, several broken ribs and a punctured lung. He underwent seven hours of surgery; with doctors telling him he was "lucky to be alive." However, he is more concerned for his younger teammates, who impressed at the Tour Colombia 2.1 stage race in February, where Higuita won overall.
"It is complicated for everyone. In my case, I think of other things but others are in a different situation. For example, Dani Martínez or Sergio Higuita, they signed their contracts and they had goals for the next two years. They perhaps bought a house for their mother and then this happens, contracts must be reduced and many people have been fired from our team. They gave us a new contract and lowered salaries by about 40 per cent. I have plans after the rest of my life afterwards, but it is difficult for those who are just starting in the sport," Uran said.
"It will be difficult to return to normal life, I think it will be difficult for us all but we have to continue. I hope that everything is eventually resolved, that a vaccine is found, that people get jobs, that the world economy is good again. We've perhaps learnt that everything must be valued: being able to go out into the street, to a bar to have a beer, to travel. They are normal things but we'll value them very much in the future."
Uran is ready to race later in the year, even if riding the Giro d'Italia in October and the Vuelta a España in November could see stages hit by cold weather and even snow in the mountains.
"If they tell us we have to race in the cold, we’ll race in the cold. We'll also have to see how all this works out, if they let us travel, if they let us enter Europe, or if they let us leave Colombia," Uran said acknowledging that riders could have to go into quarantine when they return to Europe, if they are even allowed to return to their European homes.
Uran's post-career plans include his Go Rigo Go brand. He confirmed he is continuing to pay the 82 employees who work for him, as his clothing shops are closed but online trading remains open. Uran is still active on social media as he stays in Colombia and waits for news when he can eventually start racing again.
"Sport is taking a back seat. I’m still training, and staying active on social media, just to give people a bit of distraction. I try to convey that we're all connected to make the quarantine a little easier," he said.
"We don’t know what’s going to happen. They say the Tour in August is the only date there is and so we'll plan for that and hope to ride for the good of the sponsors and the teams. But nothing is certain right now; our only objective right now is to be ready for the Tour. Whether we race it or not remains to be seen."