Riders, teams planning on Tour de France-Olympics double despite uncertainty

Peloton still in the dark on possible Olympic quarantines, vaccine requirements and other health controls ahead of Tokyo.

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Riders and teams are still planning on racing the Tour de France and the Tokyo Olympic Games back-to-back this summer despite continued uncertainty about the world health situation.

In fact, no one has much of a choice. Within the context of the larger unknowns as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, riders and teams can only do one thing — keep planning on the assumption that the sport’s top riders will be able to contest the Tour and then travel to Japan in time to compete in the Olympic Games on the calendar’s fixed dates.

Pre-Games quarantines? Vaccines? Health screenings? Calendar changes? Right now, everyone in the peloton is playing a waiting game while continuing to train at full-steam ahead.

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“We don’t know for sure yet,” Israel Start-Up Nation’s Dan Martin told VeloNews. “I don’t know how they could do [a quarantine], because the majority of the best riders would miss the Olympics if you can’t do the Tour. We all get paid by our teams, and you have to go to the Tour de France. There is zero obligation to go to the Olympics. It’s more of a personal ambition than anything to do with professional sport. I hope we can.”

Martin’s view pretty much sums up the mood in the elite men’s peloton as WorldTour racing — already in a reduced form following a string of cancelations and postponements among early races — clicks into gear in Europe.

Reports of a pre-Games quarantine, travel restrictions, health screenings and vaccine requirements remains just that — reports. IOC officials insist the Games will be held this summer, and say a finalized mitigation plan for the Tokyo Games could be rolled out by mid-March.

Suggestions of a two-week quarantine and strict Games-time lockdown appear to be focused on the athlete’s village in central Tokyo. Cycling, one of the handful of sports that will operate at satellite facilities on the outskirts of the city, could see a different set of rules that would allow riders to complete the Tour in Paris on July 18, and travel to Japan to race in the elite men’s road race on July 24.

Riders say the uncertainty on whether the Games will happen or not, and under what conditions, isn’t changing their racing plans.

“If you look at the Olympic course, it suits me well,” Team BikeExchange’s Simon Yates told VeloNews. “We don’t know what will be happening. Right now, I’m planning on racing the Giro and Tour, and I’m looking for a good year. And hopefully, I can have my hand up for the Olympics.”

Olympic challenge in pandemic conditions

Simon Yates is one of many hoping to do the double this summer. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Under normal conditions, the Tour-Olympic double is a challenging, but doable goal for the top favorites in the peloton. The Tour typically changes its dates every four years to accommodate the Games, and the peloton’s top stars tweak their calendars as a result. The elite men’s road race is one of the marquee medal events on the first day of competition, and no one wants to miss it.

Most teams want their marquee riders in the Tour, but will often let riders tweak their Tour ambitions to hit the Olympics in top form. Riders such as Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) have already confirmed he will not race the Tour with an eye on the GC in order to have the best-possible approach toward Tokyo.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown even more uncertainty into the equation. Teams are still awaiting details from the IOC and the UCI on a series of questions.

“We haven’t heard anything,” Team BikeExchange general manager Brent Copeland told VeloNews. “What we’re trying to find out is how it’s going to work with the vaccines for professional athletes. Right now, it’s pretty confusing from each country and from each health authority. It’s a pity we don’t have more information about this.”

As the season unfolds, Copeland said a growing concern is how different nations and health authorities will impose rules on vaccines and possible requirements ahead of international travel, which will throw another wrench into Olympic plans.

“Each country’s health authority does have different rules,” Copeland continued. “I have heard that athletes selected for the Olympics will be first in terms of a vaccine, but we haven’t had any official information. There is some talk by the middle of the year that there will be requirements for vaccines to fly, so if you’re selected for a race, you’re either going to have to drive there, or have a vaccine. That could be an implication for us, and that’s something we’re looking at.”

While many expect more short-term calendar disruptions in the coming weeks, there is quiet optimism within the peloton that several new vaccines coupled with cycling’s “racing bubble” protocols will help preserve the main thrust of the 2021 WorldTour calendar on traditional dates.

If that’s the case, top riders are banking that the Tour-Olympics will still doable this summer.

“It will be a challenging year. Already with all the traveling with COVID, we will see how it works out,” said defending Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I will train and prepare with the idea that the Olympics will be OK. If the riders have to choose between the Tour and the Games, you will not have the strongest field in Tokyo.”

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