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What’s Next?

Races are being cancelled, riders are under lockdown. There are bigger things to worry about than bicycle races but they’re both a welcome distraction and a precursor of economic woes ahead.

Riders have no idea when they will resume racing and the general tone seems to be treating this as a surprise off-season, those who have done Paris-Nice can rest for a few days while the others try to keep things ticking over and adjusting their training plans as if it’s, say, December, rather than March. That’s for those who can ride today because Spain, Italy and France are now in lockdown meaning a lot of pros in Girona, Tuscany and Monaco find there are restrictions on leaving home, more of which in a moment.

Postponing races, with no end date in sight for this crisis, looks fanciful. Moving a race is far more than moving a meeting in your diary but all the same a few races are sufficiently important that staging them later this year could be something for people to hope for.

There’s no precedent for the riders. In France in 1968 a wave of social and industrial protests led to races being cancelled in May and June, and this in an era when French riders typically raced in France so plenty of pros were left to themselves explained Cyrille Guimard on RMC radio the other day during Paris-Nice. On the micro level, another comparison might be an injury: imagine a rider who crashed out in a race this year sustaining a broken bone, they’re not sure when they’ll resume racing but have to keep working towards a goal: riding the indoor trainer, thinking of diet, core strength, stretching and other activities knowing that while they might feel like they’re losing their condition things can come back.

France, Italy and Spain are among the countries under lockdown and people must stay at home unless strictly necessary. The detail varies, in Spain even pro cyclists are confined indoors. In Italy pros can go out if they have documents in their back pockets and amateurs may go out but there’s social pressure to stay indoors to the point where one police force has started impounding the bikes of anyone spotted on the road; popular Strava segments are deserted. Meanwhile in France people can go out alone if it’s for “health reasons” with paperwork but the advice is to stay near your place of residence, so a jog around the quartier rather than a long ride. Other countries have similar measures, surely more will follow.

 

Many cyclists will want to go out against advice, it’s spring in the northern hemisphere and the roads are quiet. Cries to “get on Zwift” assume people have an indoor trainer, a computer with enough processing power plus a decent internet connection and it’s still not the same… but it is something. People yearning to ride outdoors against advice will argue it’s safe, even healthy to ride but think of two things. First, if someone crashes they they hog an ambulance, a hospital bed, medical staff and supplies at a time when they’re under pressure and you really don’t want to be that person; and you might be waiting in the emergency arrivals room for a long time with a broken collarbone before you get to see a nurse, let alone a medic. Second, you might argue you haven’t crashed in ages and you’ll take care but this isn’t about you, it’s about everyone. A percentage of people will have mishaps and there’s no way to certify safe, sensible cyclists; let some ride gently and others will think it’s ok to try a downhill MTB run and so on. It’s easier to keep the messaging simpler

At first glance the loss of a bike race isn’t a big deal, we’re spared “200 idiots trying to cross a line first” in the words of Marzio Bruseghin. Still a race is a nice distraction in grim times, perhaps everyone needs their diet of “bread and circuses” that bit more? Yet cancelling a race is only a first order effect, what will be the consequences to organisers, teams and others who work in the sport, from mechanics to the media? If the Tour de France is off and travel restrictions apply you fear for the bike rental shops, the bars, hotels, campsites and more. It’s not just a bike race being zapped from the calendar, it’s jobs, even rural communities taking a hit. And this is happening to other fields all over the place from football to festivals… and factories. What seemed unimaginable a short time ago is now unfolding and more awaits.

 

If you are bored indoors and want to watch and read there’s plenty. Eurosport looks to be turning itself into a version of the old Chickasmith youtube channel. France Télévision’s 1989 Tour de France highlights are on Dailymotion, complete with synth soundtrack. There are plenty of books to catch up on and Rouleur magazine has made all its issues available free to read via its app, chapeau. We’ll see what happens with this blog in the coming weeks. No race previews and write-ups but there are still subjects to explore, both contemporary and historic. There’s a mountain of material from the 1989 Tour de France ready to be explored. In the wake of Raymond Poulidor’s death last year it came to light that during the 1989 Tour people knew they were enjoying an excellent edition and their point of reference was the 1964 Tour so it’ll be interesting to see what made that year’s race so good.

Things will be missed, from the big races on a big screen right down to tiny personal habits like the pleasure of a Philippe Brunel column in L’Equipe during the Giro with his rich sentences, each as satisfying as long draw on a cappuccino. There will be wistful Sundays with moments when thoughts turn to weather in odd places, is there a headwind on the Poggio? Is it dry again in Roubaix? Will it snow tonight in the Dolomites? But these thoughts just help mask others, it’s easy to imagine a season without the Ronde, Roubaix or Giro if you have to, just as you can imagine giving up chocolate for Lent or having a “dry January”. Whether by decree or self-imposed, there’s an element of agency. It’s the things you can’t control that haunt, the family member losing their job, the lonely elderly relative, the friend left immunodeficient after chemo.

Listen out for official advice, do follow the hygiene measures as much as you can and, if it helps, imagine you have the virus and are taking steps to avoid spreading it to others.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Luke from Bendigo Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 1:40 pm

    “if it helps, imagine you have the virus and are taking steps to avoid spreading it to others.”

    Chapeau

  • BC Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 1:40 pm

    Well worth the wait. Congratulations on a well written and balanced view of the current position.
    Like many my first thoughts were for the loss of some classic and three week bike races and all the implications that brings. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is more at stake than just our favourite pastime. Business’s of all sizes are going to have to fight for survival with all the implications that brings.
    Keep safe everyone, and lets hope we are not in the same position in 12 months time.

  • Lukyluk Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 1:41 pm

    Thank you for this measured write-up and sensible, but not alarmist, advice and warnings.

    Just to add up to the “get on Zwift” debate: I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on the turbo-trainer in the last few years, it’s an acquired taste, but I no longer dislike it. I think it’s easier not to assume riding indoors and outdoors will be the same – the “pleasure” you get out of a turbo session is completely different from that of a ride.

    Zwift is not required to have a decent time on the trainer. I don’t have Zwift, or a power meter on my (quite old, but decently built) trainer, and unless you’re very serious about training, I doubt you’ll miss seeing those numbers. A few comments, for what they’re worth:

    – I usually watch TV show reruns or old movies stored on a hard drive, preferably something with a bit of pace or action (nothing against Wenders or Kaurismäki masterpieces, but they’re not exactly workout movies). Avoid subtitles if you’re doing interval training. If you have access to cycling race caps (official VOD replays or various other Internet sources), it’s a great watch as well, better than real-life videos I found, though I’d skip the sprint stages.

    – Noise-cancelling earphones are a must-have, unless you have very tolerant neighbors and ears made of steel. I use wired ones with a mini-jack extension cord wrapped around the handlebars.

    – Put an old computer monitor in front of your bike, and a playlist to set and forget so you don’t have to break your rhythm mid-way through. If there’s no computer in your workout room, Raspberry Pi’s are dirt cheap and do the trick perfectly well.

    – Invest in a trainer-specific tyre (about 30-40 euros), or the heat and friction from the roller will chew through your back wheel tyre in a few weeks. Ideally you’ll want to put those on an old pair of wheels so you don’t have to switch the tyre again and warp your wheel in the process.

    – Leave the fan running and the windows open for a few hours after you’re done to dry out the room.

    – Wash the bike regularly to avoid rust on the parts that will be getting sweaty (stem, headset, front brake calipers). The towel won’t cut it. Also mind the nuts between the rim and the spokes of the front wheel for corrosion, and the headset bearings. If you need to remove the screws around the front part of the bike, grease them well when you put them back.

    – Just like everyone says, it’s best to set yourself a goal (time or distance) and stick to it, especially in the beginning. Since the couch and the coffee machine are 10m away, it’s always tempting to step off the moment you get a bit tired.

  • JP Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 1:44 pm

    Hi,

    Thanks for this, please please keep blogging through this. I am a front line anaesthetist in the NHS and this is going to tough for us all but especially tough for us on the front line. Even small things that can distract will be welcome.

    BW

    Jamie

    • Somers Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 2:18 pm

      You and your colleagues will be the heroes of this generation.

    • Ecky Thump Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 3:21 pm

      All the very best medical practitioners and carers everywhere but especially in my home country of the UK. You’ve had to put up with 10 years plus of bulls*** austerity cuts and now there are not enough critical bed spaces in hospitals if desperately needed. Throw in Brexit on top of everything else and thats what small-minded thinking does for you too. Sorry to turn this into a political point, which the virus is not, but it does demonstrate that we’re all in this together and the comfort of unity.

      • Lukyluk Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 4:20 pm

        La Repubblica had a good way of putting it, in an article header today: “Tutti assieme, ma ciascuno a casa propria.”
        Everyone together, but each in their own home.
        🙂

    • Salsiccia Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 4:45 pm

      Cheers Jamie, thanks for you’re doing. Stay well.

      • Salsiccia Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 7:02 pm

        Thanks for *what* you’re doing!

  • Samuel Heddle Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 3:16 pm

    Been plugging through some 80s and 90s classics on Youtube. Laughed when I got to ’94, AKA the year Gewiss discovered EPO. What a time to be alive.

    Watching Chiappucci’s ride to win MSR in ’91 got my heart pumping nearly 30 years later.

  • Dan W Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 4:21 pm

    Torrential rain guaranteed across Northern France on 12th April.

    The Inner Ring’s Christmas Quiz 2030 will feature the question – when was the last time it rained at Paris – Roubaix?

    • Francis Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 2:05 pm

      This was also my thought!

  • DJW Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 5:20 pm

    I wonder if many are finding it as hard as I am here in Northern France. Blue spring skies, blossom on the trees, flowers in the parks…and we are confined to our homes, unless carrying a self-certification document justifying the puchase of essential foodstuffs, medicines, or brief and very local excercise. I get the feeling the excercise will soon be banned too. Looking from my balcony along the usually busy street there’s not a soul, not a dog, one cat…Cyclists need the great outdoors and it’s denied to us.

    Thankyou Inner Ring for helping us through these difficult and frightening days.

  • Evan Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 5:38 pm

    One of your best-written, most thoughtful pieces. Thanks!

  • noel Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 7:10 pm

    what I would really appreciate – being a lazy so and so – is that if anyone comes across a particularly good bit of footage on You Tube, that they post the link here… please!

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 7:18 pm

      It’s not youtube, it’s not racing and it’s in French but this https://vimeo.com/154665585 about the Tour de France is good, it’s about the scenes behind the race, how a town prepares to host a stage finish and more and there’s a lot of background to show the depth behind the race, right down to the shepherd finding his flock grazing among the parked vehicles of the publicity caravan. It’s long, an evening’s viewing etc.

      Dutch website cycling torrents is worth taking a look at too, not sure how active it is these days but there used to be a lot on there.

      • DJW Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 4:12 pm

        The TdF documentary was excellent and made me smile. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • RQS Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 8:43 pm

    If you want good cycling films I would recommend the LA documentary ‘The Armstrong Lie’. You can watch it again and again. You know when he’s lying, it’s whenever he moves his mouth, but you also can’t help be drawn by the lies (“I didn’t live a lot of lies, just one big lie” – which is actually a massive lie!)
    The documentary on Pantani ‘Death of a Cyclist’ is also excellent, and you’ll go back and watch the actual footage from the races afterwards. The book is better, but a bit uneven.
    ‘The Road Uphill’ is a little comi-tragic in many ways. It’s the curse of the documentarist that he goes to follow a team, and they end up failing miserably. This has happened to Tyler Hamilton and Bjorne Riis.
    Which brings me to ‘Overcoming’. It’s an interesting film to watch because we know so much more about things behind the scenes. It does give a good sense of the ‘fly-by-wire’ nature of cycling teams – especially before the current generation of well funded teams.
    There is also David Miller’s swan song ‘Time Trial’. This has some interesting footage which demonstrates a little bit more about what it means to be a road captain in a pro-team, but it’s a disappointing film, not least because Miller gets dropped from the TdF (and rightly so). His final season plays out on camera in pretty much the same way it appeared in the races: a rider with a bit too much self-regard treating his final season like the last days of school – Miller tries to play king of the Hill when the crown and the Hill have moved on already to a new generation already claiming their stake without waiting for King David to hand on the sceptre.
    If you’re a fan of cycling their all worth a watch in their own way.

    • Gelato4bahamontes Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 3:13 pm

      A throw of the dice by nick livesey. A 15 minute ode to roubaix

      • md Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 11:32 pm

        I just watched that. It’s a mini gothic classic. The Trenche has a new meaning now. Thanks for that.

        • Gelato4bahamontes Thursday, 19 March 2020, 8:41 pm

          You’re welcome. Brilliant isn’t it

          • RQS Friday, 20 March 2020, 4:18 pm

            Ah yes, the Rapha film. They did a good one where they re-rode the 1910(?) Tour de France route from Luchon to Bayonne. It’s an epic ride they start in the dark and end in the dark (326km), over the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, d’Aubisque, Marie-Blanque and a number of other minor climbs. It’s an arduous task and I wouldn’t want to get on my bike the day after that. The original TdF was a beast!

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 8:19 am

    Don’t forget humour, personally this virus situation is nowhere near serious enough to get me on Zwifft or any other of its ilk!

  • Lowell Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 12:21 pm

    Thank you, INRNG. We’ll get through this 🙂

  • acciaio Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 3:12 pm

    Ah Chickasmith, that brings back memories! That could my first pang of nostalgia for the 20-teens decade! I used to put on his videos whilst riding my turbo trainer back then. Thanks Inrng for the reminder.

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 3:58 pm

    Top

  • weeclarky Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 6:23 pm

    Might have to start … running 🙁

    • Gabriel Saturday, 21 March 2020, 1:31 am

      Nonsense.

  • Peter Minde Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 8:33 pm

    Thanks for the fine post, every little bit helps to distract from the crisis. I’ve been running in open woods that are comparatively deserted. Meanwhile, the local public radio station is doing a survey of coronavirus songs.