Early season Spanish, French races already ramping up for 2021

Teams planning to carry 'bubble' concept into pre-season training camps and early-season races through Europe.

Photo: James Startt

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Early season Spanish races such as the Volta a Valenciana and the Ruta del Sol are just around the corner, and organizers are already ramping up for what they’re hoping will be business as usual.

The 2020 racing season might have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and despite uncertain health conditions across much of Europe right now, the UCI and race organizers are moving ahead with the 2021 season with its established dates.

Of course, things could change, but officials are hopeful that cycling’s “bubble” concept will help the European calendar to open with its traditional dates in just a few month’s time if health conditions permit.

Organizers from the Volta a Valenciana (February 3-7) and the Ruta del Sol (February 17-21) have confirmed their respective dates on the international calendar, and dozens of teams are already scheduling to take part.

“It’s a complicated health situation right now, but we hope things will improve by February,” Ruta del Sol race organizer Joaquín Cuevas told EFE. “We are hoping that the best cyclists in the world come to our race.”

Early season races in Spain and France could see a boon in 2021 as the coronavirus is already spilling over into next year’s racing season.

Such international season-openers in Australia, including WorldTour dates at the Santos Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, are already canceled for 2021. The status of other early season races in the Middle East and South America remain uncertain. Teams will also be hesitant about sending their riders overseas to face possible travel quarantines or extended lockdowns.

As a result, races like the Ruta del Sol and the Volta a Valenciana in Spain and the Tour de la Provence and the Etoile de Bessèges in France could see their best fields ever as the peloton’s top pros will want to begin racing as soon as possible after such a disruptive 2020 season.

Several WorldTour teams are already planning on keeping their riders safely within the confines of Europe going into 2021. Mitchelton-Scott, for example, already sees the majority of its riders living in Spain or in nearby Andorra, and they won’t be moving them any more than necessary.

Sport director Matt White said February races in Spain will allow his team to re-create the “bubble” concept at pre-season training camps as well as at early-season races, opening the door for several weeks of uninterrupted training and racing without leaving Spanish territory.

The majority of the Mitchelton-Scott squad is based in Spain and Andorra, allowing easy access to early-year races. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“I think a lot of teams will go ‘old school’ and start the season in more traditional races in Spain and France,” White told VeloNews. “We don’t think COVID-19 will be gone by January, so we will be keeping the team together and stay for a long period of time in Spain.”

White said the team is in talks with a golf resort along Spain’s Costa Blanca to take over part of the hotel for several weeks to allow riders and staff to work safely within a COVID-free bubble that will keep them separated from the larger public.

The “bubble” concept helped save much of the 2020 racing calendar, and many expect that similar rules and restrictions will be in place for much if not all of the 2021 schedule.

There is growing hope that vaccines and other improved treatments will help ease the health crisis in the coming months, but everyone expects that many of the mitigation plans and health protocols introduced mid-season in 2020 will still be in place going into next year.

Right now, the UCI has sketched out the European calendar for 2021 with races returning to their established dates on the calendar. That means a return to the familiar dates of the northern classics in April, the Giro d’Italia in May, the Tour de France in July, and the Vuelta a España starting in August.

The sport pivoted successfully in 2020 to reschedule the entire grand tour and classics schedule on the men’s calendar, and could do so again if required.

For the time being, however, race organizers are moving full-steam ahead with plans to begin racing in February.

The Spanish wire service EFE also reported that 16 WorldTour teams have petitioned the Volta a Valenciana to have a start spot for the five-day race in early February.

The men’s European racing calendar will open in Spain in late January with the Mallorca Challenge, set for January 28-31.

Teams will be able to race throughout a busy calendar February in France, Spain and Portugal, with the Volta ao Algarve also penciled in for its traditional date on the calendar in mid-February.

French teams will also be able to follow a similar pattern, with early-season training camps and racing within French borders in January and February. Such races as the GP Marseillaise, Etoile de Bessèges, Tour de la Provence, Haut-Var and races in the Ardèche fill the French calendar in February.

And with teams hesitant about sending their stars overseas, that means Europe’s traditional season openers could see stellar start lists in 2021.

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