Annemiek van Vleuten confirmed that she has accepted a 'substantial' pay cut to help with the survival of Mitchelton-Scott after taking into account that the team's title sponsors have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
In a roundtable interview on Zoom this Monday, the world champion discussed the impact the pandemic has had on teams, prioritising public health when considering a post-COVID-19 women's calendar, and the importance of creating new ways to continue anti-doping testing during extended 'blackout' periods.
"The situation, as my team announced, we also had some pay cuts, unfortunately. The sad thing is that our sponsor is really in a bad situation, and I really feel for the people who work at this company," Van Vleuten said.
"It's not nice to be the world champion and get a pay cut. I will not talk about how much it is, but it's substantial. I hope that by taking the pay cut that it is keeping the team alive and that [the team] will continue, and I think that's the most important thing."
Mitchelton-Scott announced earlier this month that riders and staff accepted cuts to keep Australian team afloat, which is inline with other WorldTour men's teams CCC Team, Bahrain McLaren, Astana and Lotto Soudal. Bigla-Katusha is the first women's team to announce that their title sponsors have withdrawn funding putting the team's future at risk.
The COVID-19 coronavirus has hit the women’s calendar particularly hard with 14 of the top-tier 22-event Women's WorldTour races being cancelled or postponed. The UCI has suspended racing for WorldTour men's and women's events until August 1.
In its initial communication concerning a revised calendar, the sport governing body said it would prioritise the three Grand Tours and five Monuments, and announced the news dates of the Tour de France to be held August 29 to September 20. However, the communication provided limited information regarding the Women's WorldTour.
In an open letter to the UCI, The Cyclists' Alliance (TCA) Rider Council expressed its concerns that women's cycling wasn't being adequately represented in discussions concerning the post-COVID-19 International Road Calendar.
The UCI later confirmed a general framework for a revised Women's WorldTour after consulting with the CPA Women and Marianne Vos, in her role of member of the UCI Athletes’ Commission and riders’ representative on the UCI Road Commission, the AIOCC, event organisers, and the newly launched women’s teams association UNIO.
"I'm really happy with The Cyclists' Alliance, and I am also a member. I saw that they wrote a letter to the UCI and I think it gave some views from the women, and to talk to the UCI to make them aware that they should also take us into account. It would have been nice if [the UCI] surprised us and announced the women's calendar with the men's calendar right away," Van Vleuten said.
"On the other hand, I also understand that the Tour de France is the most important race on the calendar. It's important for cycling in general that it should be organised. I keep my finders crossed that the Tour de France can be organised, but health is first.
"Maybe announcing our women's calendar a little bit later is buying us some time, and it's a bit more realistic because we will have more information about what will be possible. Health is the main priority."
Manager of CPA Women, Alessandra Cappellotto, told Cyclingnews that the association has requested that women's racing continue to the end of November, with a focus on the major races, and that organisers that host men's and women's events jointly reschedule both events at the same time.
Cappellotto also confirmed that the Giro Rosa had requested new dates from September 5-13, during the Tour de France. However, she stressed that any potential date changes were dependent on government restrictions amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Van Vleuten agreed that public health is the main priority but said that if government restrictions are lifted and the racing resumes, she would like to be able to race some of the Spring Classics and the Giro Rosa during September, October and November.
"I keep my fingers crossed that the Women's WorldTour races that were supposed to be held in the spring, will be organised in the autumn, racing until November, and we can have a nice Flanders and the Ardennes Classics," Van Vleuten said.
"I would really look forward to Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and the stage race that I love the most, Giro Rosa, and the Women's Tour in Britain, would be good if we can fit it in somewhere because it's a beautiful stage race. I would love to race and show my rainbow jersey in England. Those races are high on my wish list.
"We know that [COVID-19] is not a good situation for the economics globally and it will have an impact on every sector, and for women's cycling and cycling in general it's a really bad situation. I have the feeling that it's not positive but we have to wait and see as soon as we can race again, and we can show our sponsor again, we will pick up the positive [path] set in a good direction.
"As long as we have rumours of a date for the Giro Rosa in September, and the Tour de France, then there is hope and that is what we need."
Races aren't the only aspect of sport that have been put on hold due to health precautions surrounding COVID-19. Anti-doping testing protocols have been nearly shut down during the international social distancing and self-quarantine restrictions leaving an untested 'blackout' period that has concerned anti-doping agencies.
US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced this month that it has developed a voluntary pilot programme whereby athletes administer blood and urine tests to themselves while an anti-doping control officer monitors live via FaceTime or Zoom. The anti-doping officers then monitors the process of sealing and preparing the sample for mailing while collecting data such as sample numbers.
"I think it's really good that testing also needs to be done in this period. In a very creative way, it's good that there is some movement and that they are thinking about how to organise testing," Van Vleuten said on the self-administered testing pilot programme.
"I was very happy to read about this [USADA pilot programme] and hopefully it will be created and testing can still be done. I also had a recent message that we can still be tested, and I think that's a good message to all the athletes."
Van Vleuten won the elite women's road world title after a 105km solo attack at the 2019 UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, she has only gotten to race in the rainbow jersey at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a race she won in February before the calendar was suspended.
"It's disappointing that I can't show [the rainbow jersey] in the races. But I also feel very lucky that I can show it everyday on the roads because we also need to train everyday," Van Vleuten said.
"It's disappointing for me and for my sponsors that I can't show it in the races because, in the end, that's what we're training for. I could be very sad about it, and I was a bit sad about it, but I also need to focus on what I have control over, and that's staying positive.
"It would be sad if I couldn't show it again, but at least I have a good record - one out of one - 100 per cent score in the rainbow jersey."
The 2020 UCI Road World Championships has kept its original dates for September 20 to 27 in Aigle-Martigny, Switzerland, on a mountainous circuit.
"This year's World Championships is on a course that also suits me very well and so maybe there will be an opportunity to go for it again," Van Vleuten said.