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Team Ineos may command the biggest budget and strongest grand tour roster in the pro peloton, but they will be in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to navigating the challenges built into a post-coronavirus racing season.
The UCI’s confirmation of the new-look 2020 calendar this week will create a series of dilemmas over training plans, team travel, and rider selections as WorldTour outfits look to get their ducks in a row for a season stacked with clashing races and minimal recovery time.
“Luxury is nice, but it won’t make it easier,” said Servais Knaven, a sport director at Team Ineos. “It will be quite a puzzle for all teams. There are enough riders to fill the races, but I also look at the staff and the logistics element.”
There are points in the new 2020 calendar that could see teams competing across three simultaneous events in countries across the world – a situation Mitchelton Scott’s Luke Durbrdge called a “logistical nightmare.” While WorldTour squads are large enough to fill out the start sheets, the circus that follows the riders of team vehicles and staffers must also be considered.
“We have two buses, like most teams,” Knaven told Sporza. “It starts there already. Then you already have to rent a camper.”
While staff and vehicles can be hired on a short-term basis, maneuvering riders currently scattered all over the globe into the correct place at the correct time is not something that can be solved with cash. Both local travel restrictions and the public health situation in respective countries will have to dictate riders’ travel schedules.
“Strategic choices have to be made,” Knaven said. “When will someone return to Europe? Do you risk doing it as late as possible or not, because there may be a period of quarantine?”
Ineos’ three Tour de France leaders are currently at their respective homes, with Egan Bernal in Colombia, Chris Froome in Monaco, and Geraint Thomas in Wales. All three locations are seeing confinement restrictions easing and training is moving from indoor pain caves to the open road. With the start of the season still 11 weeks away, there is no immediate need for riders to return to European training bases.
However, the reigning Tour champion Bernal will have to take a long transatlantic flight, and he will have to relocate at some point.
“I don’t think Egan is worried about that right now. He’s alright where he is,” Knaven said. “But it will not be possible for him to come to Europe three days in advance after he has been in Colombia for six months. The more the races are approaching, the more nervous the riders will become. But not yet.”
While pro teams have time to firm up logistical plans, getting riders back to shape for the return to racing August 1 is more pressing. Many outfits have toned down riders’ training amid the uncertainty of the past months and restrictions preventing outdoor riding, seeing many riders hit a second “base” phase in their fitness.
While acknowledging that riders will have sufficient time to prepare effectively for the September-October racing crescendo, Knaven feels some grinta may have been lost.
“It is a kind of winter period [of training], but riders normally start a top race like the Tour that they have at the Ruta del Sol,” he said. “The positive thing is that this is the same for everyone. Everyone will miss hardness and rhythm.”
The minimal opportunity to train at altitude is a further spanner in the works. The majority of GC leaders take extended trips to the Canary Islands, Spain’s Sierra Nevada, or Italian Alps for their early-season training, with Froome and Thomas in particular known to have spent long periods atop Mount Teide in Tenerife. While not a problem for the likes of Bernal or fellow South Americans Richard Carapaz (Ineos) or Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic), some riders, including Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) have already voiced concerns about their ability to compete without a spell working out in the thin air.
And then there’s the 2021 season to consider. With the Vuelta a España wrapping up November 8, the peloton will only have two months to take a pause before a whole new cycle of racing begins again at the January Australian races.
The challenges entwined in such an unusual racing calendar will cause problems for all teams, irrespective of budgets and resources – and there could be a leveling of the playing field. Despite that, Knaven is just happy to have the prospect of racing on the horizon.
“You have to think up a lot of scenarios and when the time comes, you have to run one of those scenarios,” he said. “It is better to have a calendar than no calendar.”