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White: We’re heading for the most competitive Tour de France field ever

Mitchelton-Scott head sports director Matt White talks to the media at the 2019 Tour de France pre-race press conference
Mitchelton-Scott head sports director Matt White talks before the 2019 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

Although the dates are only pencilled in and much will rely on how effective national and global strategies are in the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus, the world of professional cycling now has a glimmer of hope after ASO announced their plans to hold the Tour de France later in the year.

The previous June Grand Départ has been moved to August 29, and with cycling’s other two Grand Tours set to be held in quick succession teams and riders can now potentially plan for the second half of the year.

For Matt White, senior directeur sportif at Mitchelton-Scott, that means plotting schedules for his roster of riders, the majority of which are still under lockdown. 

However, the Australian is tentatively looking towards the new Tour dates with a degree of optimism.

“It will be a relief once we can pull it off,” White told Cyclingnews from his home in Spain. 

“It’s great positive thinking and it’s great to have something to plan towards but it’s also something that’s out of our hands. We can help control the virus by staying inside but if the numbers don’t come down then it’s going to be hard to keep to those dates. It’s still great to have some light at the end of the tunnel for the riders to plan towards.

“Most of our planning had gone out of the window. About 85 per cent of my team has been in lockdown for six weeks and I’ve only got about five or six guys that can train on the road. They’re ticking along and getting on the home trainers, and they’re staying relatively fit with more intensity and less volume. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, they’ll be able to venture out on the road.”

For most teams, not just Mitchelton-Scott, the re-drafted season will revolve around the Tour de France. 

It’s the only race that has come forward with dates agreed with the UCI, although the governing body were also quick to ring-fence their own Road World Championships for September 20-27.  

White believes that the Tour de France could be the most competitive ever seen due to the unique circumstances.

 “By the time the Tour comes around everyone will have had a month or two on the road but I do think we’ll have very competitive season. I think we’ll have the most competitive Tour de France field ever because there won’t be too many leaders saying they’ll wait for the Vuelta in November," White pointed out.

"The teams will put their strongest line-ups possible forward for the Tour and then we’ll see teams then back that up with different guys for the Giro. I think a lot of riders will do the Tour and the Giro and then at the Vuelta we could see a totally different winner. Some guys maybe won't want to race a Grand Tour in November, I could be wrong, but what I’m really interested in seeing is what happens to all the smaller races like Denmark, Hamburg and Binckbank.”

White has yet to decide how he will divide up his Grand Tour riders for the season. 

Originally Simon Yates was set to race the Giro d'Italia, while his brother Adam was down for the Tour de France. Esteban Chaves – currently in lockdown in Colombia – was targeting the Olympic Games before their postponement. White is eager to see more details on the new calendar before deciding on his teams plans. 

“We’ve seen some dates with some races provisionally in August, with Tirreno-Adriatico acting as a pre-Tour de France race. We’re starting to see a calendar but until we see a final version and until our riders can go back on the roads we’re still in a holding pattern. Once we see the plan and schedule, that’s when we can really plan with our riders.

"In terms of peaking, I think that everyone is going to be ready to race, and best-case scenario, that could be in July.”

With race dates beginning to filter through, the economic pressure on teams and their sponsors has begun to slightly ease. 

Some teams, including Mitchelton-Scott, have been forced to make pay cuts to stay alive, and while the global economic state of affairs is likely to have a greater impact on teams as opposed to whether bike races take place, even the start of a new race calendar is the start of something promising.

“It’s a positive if we can get it up and running. If we can give our sponsors exposure from July until November that will certainly soften the blow," White said. 

"And it’s a blow that everyone is feeling to some extent. All companies are feeling the pinch. With the rider market as well, it’s been very quiet but a lot of teams are worried about what things will look like in 2021. Hopefully we can get all the teams through this.”