Journals Riders

Joe Laverick journal: bike racing in COVID-19 times

Rider journals 2020: Joe Laverick #08

Joe Laverick and five other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental this season. Based in France for 2020 and supported by the Rayner Foundation, Joe rides for Chambéry Cyclisme Foundation (CCF), AG2R La Mondiale’s development team. This is his eighth journal entry

The pros are the only people that should be racing. They’re tested multiple times a week, they can form bubbles, and it’s much easier to track any cases

With coronavirus cases rising across the world, it’s hardly surprising that bike racing has taken a hit – or has it?

Looking across Europe and beyond, it’s clear that each country is taking a different strategy. In this piece, I’m going to cover amateur racing in the major European countries, as well as a few ‘guest’ nations, and then finish with my opinion on racing at the professional level.

To put it simply, it’s a fluid situation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if things have completely changed by the time this goes live.

Please note, I’m not a COVID-19 expert and I don’t know the ins and outs of each country’s individual situation. Please, take all my points with a pinch of salt.

Photo: Chambéry CF

France

My current homeland. From a casual observation, social distancing is largely a myth. It just doesn’t really happen. Masks are obligatory in most town centres now, but cases seem to be spiralling out of control (albeit death rates are staying low).

Wearing a mask on the start line seems futile considering how close we are during the race itself

There are very few restrictions at French races. I’ve competed in 5 to 6 races since the restart. I’ve had to sign a couple of waivers that I don’t have any symptoms, and then almost every race requires you to wear a mask at the start. Wearing a mask on the start line seems futile considering how close we are during the race itself, but what do I know?

Since the opening weekend, there have been rumours that racing is going to get cancelled. Every week somebody seems to say, “well this could be our last race weekend”. It’s very much a week-by-week situation, but if the cases continue rising like they are now, is it only a matter of time. 

Oh, and testing? What testing? I’ve heard some conti teams are requiring all their riders to be tested, nothing at all on the amateur scene.

What I’ve noticed with France, is that because the lockdown was so tight for the first few months, they don’t want to go there again. Their economy can’t handle it. There aren’t even any regional lockdowns or restrictions. The French Health Minister talks about the potential of enforcing local lockdowns, but with the decimated economy, they’re not rushing into anything. With no plans on restricting the ‘5000 people’ rule, it looks like racing will continue.

Harrison Wood. Photo: SEG Racing

Netherlands

Business as usual according to Harrison Wood. The Netherlands has brought in some slight changes in race HQs, one-way systems, and pre-paying for races. But apart from this, it’s pretty normal.

Belgium

Jacob Vaughan reports from Belgium that it’s not a great place to be for Brits. Foreign riders are only allowed to enter races three days before but every race is oversubscribed.  There’s the option of riding some inter-clubs, but many are getting cancelled or bringing in rules banning foreign riders. Jacob says that if he’s lucky, he’ll have a couple of races in September, but nothing’s certain.

Spain

After races were cancelled in August, the Spanish season is due to get underway come September. Dylan Westley told me how his season is going to be ‘packed’ between September and October. There’s the requirement to wear masks on the start line and in neutral, but the Spanish have strict laws on mask-wearing anyway, so this is hardly a surprise.

Ireland

No spectators, all entries online, and prize money sent by bank transfer. I wish two of those things would happen anyway! In Ireland, racing has been happening a while. There have been some local lockdowns which stops some riders racing, but apart from that, they seem to have a relatively stable plan.

Mason Hollyman (Holdsworth-Zappi). Photo: James Little

Italy

“There are races, just not as many and some are still getting cancelled”, is the news I received from Mason Hollyman. The Italians have regulations where you have to get a temperature check and sign some documents before collecting numbers, and they’ve stopped pre-race manager meetings. With the Baby Giro still due to go ahead, it seems Italy isn’t suffering as bad as other nations.

UK

I respected the UK decision for a while. Make a decision early and stick to it. I honestly believe the cancellation of nationals made sense. The government guidelines are difficult to interpret, insurance would be hell, and the field would’ve been hugely diluted as most riders are basing themselves in mainland Europe. 

Surely if you’re going to race for 15 minutes, you may as well race for an hour

However – and a big ‘however’ – I think they’ve messed up now. Circuit racing can now happen, but only 24 riders for 15 minutes. Why? Surely if you’re going to race for 15 minutes, you may as well race for an hour.

There’s also the new regulation that sportives of up to 600 people can take place. On the surface, this looks like a money grabbing move. If sportives can happen, why not road racing?

The good news is the TT scene is thriving. This makes sense. You can easily social distance and us testers are loners anyway! Vive le CTT.

Australia

I thought I’d bring Oz in for a bit of a different perspective. Big thanks to Elliot Schultz for providing the info.

Cases in Australia are minute in comparison to Europe. With many states only having single figures of daily new cases, they seem to have it in control. To quote: “if there’s more than 100 new cases a day, everyone loses their s**t”.

The racing situation in Oz is pretty poor. Some states have weekly club criteriums, and then there’s the odd state-level road race. With the Herald Sun Tour postponed until 2022, it’s clear that Australia isn’t messing around.

The professionals

My honest opinion? They are the only people that should be racing. They’re tested multiple times a week, they can form bubbles, and it’s much easier to track any cases.

The cases of Larry Warbasse and Leonardo Basso, to name a few, show that it’s not bulletproof. The good thing with pros however, with all the testing, you can pick up the problem quickly, and isolate them. Take Warbasse, he had no symptoms at all.

Le Tour de France. With the regulation of: ‘if two riders or staff test positive, the whole team is given the boot’, it seems to only be a matter of time. Completing a Grand Tour across a country with rising cases, really doesn’t seem a good idea. However, the rumours in the peloton are that without the Tour, numerous teams will go under.

Cast your mind back to February and March, if a rider tested positive, the whole race was stopped (UAE Tour)

Cast your mind back to February and March, if a rider tested positive, the whole race was stopped (UAE Tour). It seems we’re now taking a more liberal approach. At the end of the day, money talks, and as always, riders aren’t put first.

Thanks to all the riders who I message for giving the inside line. If I’ve made any mistakes with government policy in any country, I can only apologise. I don’t know the ins and outs of every policy in every country and there may be very good reasons for some of the ‘stranger’ regulations.

Featured photo: Photo: Chambéry CF

Find out more

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Joe Laverick journal: first race butterflies

Joe Laverick journal: nouveaux départs

Joe Laverick journal: excited, scared and nervous

Rider journals 2020: introducing Joe Laverick

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