Olympic Games quarantine quandry could see teams focus on Tour de France, warn riders

Team interests in sending strong lineups to the big-budget Tour could see riders forced to sacrifice Games ambitions.

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Riders could be left in a tug-o-war between personal ambitions and team duties should a pre-Olympic Games quarantine process be imposed.


A fresh wave of uncertainty over COVID requirements for the summer Games swept through the cycling world Wednesday as whispers emerged Olympic chiefs may impose a 14-day isolation period on athletes arriving in Tokyo to compete. Those reports have yet to be officially confirmed, but even the hint of a pre-Games quarantine sent a ripple through the men’s and women’s peloton.

The need to fulfill such a self-isolation period could put a stopper on athletes attempting to double the Games with the Tour de France or Giro Rosa, and should the measures stay in place, riders feel the races in Tokyo may come out as a casualty.

“Every team wants to go to the Tour with its strongest team,” said defending Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet.

“The commercial value of the Tour is very great, while the Olympic Games are not raced in a team jersey. But it is still the team that pays us.”

“Golden Greg” Van Avermaet may not be best suited to the hilly parcours of Tokyo, but he remains intent on defending his Olympic road race title. However, his new French team Ag2r-Citroën will be going all-in for the Tour as it looks to put its new sponsors, jersey, and freshly signed marquee riders into the spotlight on home roads. Anna van der Breggen will likewise want to challenge for a second-straight Olympic gold medal, yet SD-Worx will undoubtedly want to see her defending her Giro Rosa title.

Multi-discipline maestro Mathieu van der Poel faces similar conflicts.

The Dutchman has already laid out his desire to compete in the Tokyo mountain bike race after a Tour de France debut. However, with the French race proving the powerhouse of cycling’s economic model as TV coverage, sponsor interest, and bumper prize packages make it the gold bullion in the vault of any cycling team’s potential bottom line, his Alpecin-Fenix bosses will be intent on sending their superstar to the team’s first-ever tilt at the Tour.

Van der Poel recently stated that his Tour debut would prove an unavoidable sponsor-pleasing distraction ahead of the Games, and echoed the sentiment when asked Wednesday of his take on the possible “either-or” scenario this summer.

“If I have to choose between the Tour de France and mountain biking at the Olympics, I will of course go for the latter,” he said.

“But that may not depend on me alone. For me, it would be decided very quickly, but I think the team values ​​my participation in the Tour de France more.”

The sudden churn of the rumor mill Wednesday could prove just that – speculation. Reports from around the globe describe conflicting scenarios and possible mitigation plans, including travel exemptions and pre-Games screening processes removing the need for isolation on arrival in Tokyo.

While nothing is clear just yet, the one thing that is certain is that a potential butting of heads between the Tour and the Games could see Tokyo coming out second-best.

“If the riders have to choose between the Tour and the Games, you will not have the strongest field in Tokyo,” Van Avermaet said. “The course in Tokyo appeals to many riders. Tour riders such as Bernal, Roglič, and Pogačar will be motivated to participate. So a solution has to be found.”

Should the COVID requirements remain, the obvious compromise would be to move the Olympic cycling block to the end of the Games period, allowing headroom for Tour and Giro Rosa riders to jet into Tokyo and complete any COVID isolation requirements.

With pandemic conditions kicking back strong on one hand and vaccines providing optimism on the other, Olympic chiefs could now have another concern to be contingency planning for in the months ahead.

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