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White: Sponsors may dictate Tour de France rosters

Mitchelton-Scott-Scott head sports director Matt White
Mitchelton-Scott-Scott head sports director Matt White (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

While the Tour de France and several other WorldTour races were handed a lifeline on Tuesday with the UCI's announcement of a new version of the sporting calendar, the fact that so many major events would be condensed into such a small window threw up several questions.

One major issue now facing teams is roster selection, with Mitchelton-Scott head sports director Matt White believing that some sponsors may persuade teams to concentrate their rosters on the Tour de France. 

Assuming that sporting events can take place – and it's remote at this point – and that travel and social-distancing restrictions are eased enough for racing to re-start, teams will have logistical and selection dilemmas on a scale that they have never seen before.

White told Cyclingnews on Tuesday that the "hectic" calendar poses a number of questions, but if racing re-starts, then he envisages that major teams will solidify their Tour de France line-ups before filling in the blanks in other races. The Tour has been given a slot from August 29 to September 20, and White believes that leading team sponsors will be expecting teams to load their eight-rider rosters with their best team possible in order to try to claw back some of the exposure and results lost from earlier in the year.

"It will certainly be a hectic three-month period, and that's even without the smaller races being added in," White told Cyclingnews on Tuesday.

"I envisage that all teams will be forced into sending their best GC team to the Tour. Ineos can afford to have the likes of Richard Carapaz concentrate on the Giro d'Italia and still run with Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal and Chris Froome at the Tour. No other team has the depth to do that.

"It means that there are going to be a few riders who had the Giro down as their May objective who may now switch to the Tour. That might mean that the Giro becomes an easier option for GC results. I believe that this year, more than any other, some sponsors are going to want to dictate who goes to the Tour for some teams. They won't want to wait for the Giro. It's going to be a tricky planning process for all the teams and how they prioritise racing post-TDF. It could mean that you've got a very competitive Vuelta a España because some guys will have had the chance to recover post-Tour."

White acknowledged that the final call on which races take place will not be taken by the UCI or race organisers, but by governments. It's telling that German WorldTour races were not included in the new UCI calendar, and that the German government had already ruled out major sporting events taking place in the period those races were scheduled.

There are still several unanswered questions in relation to smaller events – those that sit below the WorldTour level – and how the UCI will slot them into an already-congested plan that includes the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España overlapping.

"We still need to know if they're going ahead and where they fit," White said. "Off the top of my head, we're still waiting on the Tour of Burgos, the Czech Tour, Croatia, and the Tour of Denmark. There are also all the Italian and Franco/Belge one-day races in October. Are they going to be on? It's hectic, and there's a period where you've got three WorldTour races going on at the same time with the Canadian races, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de France. You've also got the Tour of Britain on at that point, and that means they'll get the fourth programme from teams who have the  resources to go. Then there's another period where you've got the Giro, Vuelta and the Ardennes all with in a week.

"It's nice to have a calendar and one we can start planning around," he continued. "We're either going to be able to pull it off or not, but this pandemic is a lot bigger than the cycling world. Teams who can readjust to a calendar that we have never experienced will thrive, but at the end of the day, we understand that any final decisions will be determined by the health authorities and governments."