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.