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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Saturday, July 11, 2020

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2019 Tour de France | 2019 Giro d'Italia

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf. - Rabindranath Tagore

Cycling's World Championships

Current racing:

Important upcoming racing, according to the UCI revised calendar:

Latest completed racing:

Remco Evenepoel to make Monument debut at Il Lombardia

Evenepoel's Deceunick-Quick Step team posted this announcement:

European Time Trial Champion Remco Evenepoel is currently preparing for the second part of the 2020 season in Val di Fassa, Italy, together with his Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammates. In less than three weeks’ time, the 20-year old will travel to Spain for the Vuelta a Burgos, the team’s first official UCI race since the COVID‑19 pandemic. Only a few days later, another stage race awaits the winner of this year’s Vuelta a San Juan and Volta ao Algarve: the Tour de Pologne, the first World Tour-level race of Evenepoel’s 2020 campaign.

Remco Evenepoel

Remco Evenepoel racing earlier this year at the Tour of San Juan.

“It will be my first time in Poland and I look forward to it”, Remco said. “I will start the Tour de Pologne without any pressure. I have already proven that I can compete for the win in this kind of stage race. Also, my main goals are later in the season. But we’ll see how I’ll feel and if the opportunity presents itself, I won’t waste it. If I feel really well, I could still go for a stage win or the GC. I don’t have to prove myself but I always expect a lot from myself."

On August 15, Il Lombardia will mark Evenepoel’s debut in a Monument. “I will try to be in peak condition by then”, commented the Belgian. “It’s a beautiful and prestigious race. We’ve already been talking about it with the team. We’ll have a strong line-up as it will be very tough. If I have to compare it to a race I’ve already done, I’d say the Clasica San Sebastian, but I expect it to be even tougher. The weather will be crucial this year with temperatures that could easily rise up to 30 degrees. It doesn’t really scare me, I think I can handle the heath, but the combination of high temperatures, fluid loss, technical descents and demanding parcours will make it a hard race. After all, that’s why it’s a Monument.”

After Il Lombardia, Evenepoel will battle for the gold medal in the Belgian National ITT Championships and defend his title in the European Time Trial Championships, which will be held in Plouay. “As a European Champion and silver medalist at the World Championships, I can’t aim for anything else but the win at the Nationals”, he said. “It would be a little bit silly if I said I’d just go for the top 5, even with the world class competitors I’ll have to face. There are at least five other world class time trialists in Belgium, so finishing fifth, a couple of seconds behind the race winner is a perfectly realistic scenario. That’s why it’s important to me to keep the faith in my own abilities, focus on myself, and ride as hard as possible on that day.”

“The Belgian ITT Championships will be my first race against the clock after the coronavirus outbreak. The only way to practice time trials is to simulate them on training. It’s not necessarily a disadvantage as this will be the case for most competitors. I spend a lot of hours on my Specialized Shiv TT Disc. It feels good and I’ll be used to it by August 20.”

The European Time Trial Championships are scheduled only four days after the Belgian Championships in Koksijde. “If everything goes well, my condition should be really good by then. I have faith in myself and in my Shiv. Anything is possible if I take good care of myself. It’s always tricky to make predictions, but I really want to win it again and successfully defend my title. I will give it my everything to do so, you can be sure of that.”

In the closing weekend of August, Evenepoel will debut in two one-day races close to home, namely the Druivenkoers Overijse on August 29 and the Brussels Cycling Classic, one day later: “I look forward to spending the weekend racing in my hometown region. One of the climbs in the Brussels Cycling Classic, the Keperenberg, is only three kilometers from where I live, so I know the parcours well. It will be nice to race so close to home with the Wolfpack.”

Interview with Astana general manager Alexandr Vinokourov

Team Astana posted this:

The general manager of Astana Pro Team Alexandr Vinokurov in an interview with Eurosport commentator Sergey Kurdyukov talks on team’s management during the pandemic crisis, importance of the following three intense months of racing, Kazakh riders, Alexey Lutsenko, cycling in Kazakhstan, Montblanc and Ironman.

Alexander Vinokourov

Alexandr Vinokurov a few years ago with Vincenzo Nibali. Sirotti photo

It’s up to a rider to look after his form; it’s up to the team manager to take care of everything else. How do you deal with all the difficulties of a period which the cycling world has never been up against before? What is the strategy?

- When the sheer extent of the pandemic became evident, we discussed the situation with riders and staff and took a decision to cut all the wages for this period by 30 per cent. A measure which is never easy to take, but everybody saw the point. The world has changed dramatically in a matter of weeks, and who knows whether it will be like before and how much time the way back to normal will take. In the foreseeable future I don’t expect the paychecks in cycling to be as impressive as a year ago, we can only thank the sponsors for standing by, while all of them face business issues of their own. They have every right to suppose we’d do our best in every race after the season restart.

We are aware of different possible scenarios. The only must is to race, it’s a matter of survival for professional cycling. If there are no big races by the end of the year, it would mean that some teams would face closure, and most of others would find themselves in a deep crisis. The Tour de France is paramount, it’s the pillar of the season. No measure to make it go ahead is too much, we would accept any restrictions imposed by the organizers and local authorities if need be. Instead of lamenting the fact that there will be no huge crowds of fans we are used to, that the atmosphere is likely to be somewhat different, the logistics will be somewhat tricky and following a special protocol won’t be easy either – we can only say thank you to the shareholders in pro cycling who have never thrown in the towel. Just for the record, about the protocol: Astana Pro Team started to employ special measures long before there was any talk of any epidemic. We started disinfecting team vehicles and accommodations in most important races, just because in terms of catching some bugs it had always been a risky environment for athletes at their peak.

Cycling world seemed to realize the seriousness of the problem well before the rest of the society?

- Especially when the Tour of Emirates was stopped and the peloton was quarantined off in the race hotel. The race shaped up well for us, with Alexey Lutsenko going for the podium, and the sudden stop came as a shock at first. Soon we knew too well it’s not a situation to play with. We opted out of Paris-Nice, no matter how well prepared and motivated our riders were to contest the stages and the GC, health and well-being of the team’s stuff has always been and will remain our top priority.

When the restrictions started to get lifted – did it feel like a challenge bringing all the riders, who had different training opportunities, back to a similar level of form?

- Sure, some of them never stopped riding outdoors, while others were locked down in their apartments and it was not easy riding on home trainers only, I learned it the hard way. But the problem was apparently not so great as it might have been if we had been told to start racing, say, in June. Two months of riding on the road before the first official event is a normal period to put in a lot of quality kilometers both individually and in a high-altitude training camp which they do right now.

Speaking of home trainers, you had your fair share of experience using them on your way back to fitness and up to the Olympic gold after the famous crash in the Tour of 2011. It was kind of necessary evil, if memory serves, has it changed since then for you?

- Of course, it has! Smart trainers and interactive software make it much more fun. I rode some online races myself and found them an interesting experience. Astana riders won the virtual Giro, which was good both for their morale and for the team exposure. Now the evolution got as far as the virtual Tour, so it’s getting far beyond the realm of computer games, it’s become a part of a new reality for us to accept.

The new version of racing season looks rather congested. Does it seem realistic for Astana trying to run after all the major goals with strong line-ups?

- There are a few weeks between the Tour and the Vuelta, it should be enough for some strong and experienced riders to recover and target both. Time alone will tell, we’ll look after their conditions, but we remain reasonably optimistic. We also expect the Kazakh riders to show their best qualities this autumn, they work hard to earn their spot in the Grand Tours. Some of them have already had this type of experience behind their shoulders, like Zhandos Bizhigitov, Nikita Stalnov and Daniil Fominykh, others are looking forward to their debut. In a season like that younger riders get their chances. Yuriy Natarov, last year’s Tour of Almaty winner, is getting ready for his first three weeks Tour in Italy. Vadim Pronskiy had to go through a hip surgery, it was a reasonable idea to use the lockdown period for this intervention, you should have this type of issues sorted out while you’re young to have a long career ahead of you. The rehab is going well, and we hope to see him racing this year.

A lot of people ask about the Olympic prospects of Alexey Lutsenko. What do you, as the golden Olympian from the same region of Kazakhstan, think about them, do you see an heir in him?

- Why not? Where there is a will, there is a way. Some people say it’s a climbers’ course in Tokyo, I wouldn't say so; on the other hand, Alexey worked hard on his climbing for the last couple of years and did some notable steps ahead. I for one was not a pure climber myself, the fact that didn’t keep me from winning the Vuelta and making it to the podium of the Tour. The Olympic quota is aimed against super teams in control of the whole thing, it makes the race more open. In this situation having two teammates which will be the case with Alexey should be of much help. The Olympics have a special importance for Kazakhstan, it’s a well-known fact. Yet, we’ll focus on them more a bit later, there’s so much in store for Lutsenko by the end of this year. He’ll target Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a stage of the Tour de France. He cracked top-3 over the Galibier last year, it was close.

What is the first impression of Aleksandr Vlasov, the new signing clad in the jersey of Russian champion?

- He fitted in ideally from the first days in the team. He’s got the legs and the courage to attack which he demonstrated in the Tour of Provence where he made a good duo with Lutsenko. The guy won a stage and placed second in the GC, there was no beating Nairo Quintana as strong as that, so it felt like a win. He’s been in the Giro long list for a while, we expect him to be a strong helping hand for Jakob Fuglsang in the mountains, to gain valuable experience and, why not, situation permitting, to go for a stage win.

Apart from following your general manager’s activity the audience takes inspiration from your recent athletic achievements like the title in the Ironman World Champs last autumn. Previously you made it to the top of Montblanc, will the mountain saga continue?

- Montblanc was an epic story indeed. It didn’t let us in on the first try, the weather was too bad. The following year we came earlier in the season and made it to the top. It was a special experience to remember, sure enough, we went through some stressful and dangerous situations as well, and it was really hard overall. Frankly speaking, it also told me that serious mountaineering is not my cup of tea. I love mountains, I don’t have anything against hiking in high altitude environment, but climbing 4000+ peaks is all different story. There must be some call of nature inside, and this one is the activity to be taken seriously, not a thing to do for a change. I’d rather ride up and down the mountain on my bike.

As to triathlon – well, water is not exactly my element either, I’m looking forward to jumping on a bike as soon as possible every time, but I’ve learned to get by. This year my own athletic endeavors are much further down the list of priorities, though. The team will have three months to excel, and that’s what always on my mind.

When we go on air, messages of support are showering on us from all the corners of the Earth. Astana Pro Team is a genuinely international project with a long story of success. But it’s also a big dream of every boy who starts cycling in Kazakhstan.

- 15 years is a serious chunk of time… Now we’ve got a respectable global fan base, it’s true, we put Kazakhstan on the map whenever we ride, we’ve earned an image of our own, and we can only be proud of our achievements. There were some critical voices saying there must be clear majority of Kazakh riders on the line-up. But international elite racing is inherently international, one should see the point. Domestic riders gain invaluable experience riding side by side with foreign stars, and shine later, like Alexey Lutsenko does. Evolution never stops. We used to buy big names; now we hire riders to give them a chance of making a name for themselves. The lift that bring Kazakh youngsters on the top level keeps working, there are specialist at home in constant search for talents. Nurlan Smagulov, the newly elected president of the national cycling federation, sees this area as a particularly important one.

I want to thank all our partners and to express my special gratitude to the team’s general partner Samruk-Kazyna. We’ve been together for many years, it’s their support that gives us a privilege of looking ahead with optimism even in crisis time like this year. I hope we’ll celebrate a lot more of well-deserved wins together.

Mitchelton-SCOTT confirm 2020 program and RACESAFE policy

The team sent me this update:

With less than two weeks until a return to racing, Mitchelton-SCOTT has confirmed its men’s and women’s race programs for the remainder of the 2020 season.

Mitchelton-Scott team

Mitchelton-Scott will soon be back in action. Sirotti photo

The schedule release comes in line with an initial edition of ‘RACESAFE’, the team’s own COVID-19 policy to ensure the health and safety of riders and staff remains the highest priority when racing returns.

Mitchelton-SCOTT will kick start its campaign in the Basque Country, with the women’s team racing at Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa and Clasica Femenina Navarra on the 23rd and 24th July. The men will follow shortly after at the Vuelta a Burgos from July 28th.

The women’s program will feature 32 race days across 17 events, with the men lining up for 117 days across 30 events. Both teams will conclude the season at the Vuelta a Espana / Madrid Challenge on November 8th.

To compliment the UCI COVID-19 procedures and those of individual events, Mitchelton-SCOTT has also developed an internal document, RACESAFE, for riders and staff. The working document was developed by the medical team and will be consistently reviewed throughout the season.

For the health and safety of riders, staff and the public, some of the additional measures to be undertaken by the team include:

Matt White – Men’s Head Sport Director:
“We’ve selected the additional races outside the WorldTour races for a combination of reasons.  One is to prepare for bigger races and our bigger targets which is obviously the three Grand Tours and certain one-day races.

“Another is to give everyone races. The WorldTour alone is not enough to give 28 guys racing and we also want to provide a mix in style of racing between stage and one-day races.

“We haven’t pushed things on riders, but we have a very self-motivated group. Everyone has handled it well, everyone is raring to go.

“I don’t think there’s any excuses coming back to racing. Even though as a team we had probably 90% of riders off the road for two months, everyone had a home trainer and a long-enough window on the road that racing is going to be even when we start back.

“It’s like the start of the season and the end of the season all at the same time. Guys know, regardless of their race program, that the start of August is game on. The whole bunch will be ready and motivated.”

Martin Vestby – Women’s Head Sport Director:
“We will start racing in Basque, which will be a good opportunity to get everyone back together and good preparation for Strade Bianche.

“Also, with the COVID-19 situation, we feel that after such a long break it’s good to relax back into racing, to see how the different protocols will be implemented rather than find our feet at a WorldTour race.

“We have riders with the capability to perform in a lot of the races we will start, so with this compromised schedule I would say we have quite a big target on every race we will start.

“The girls have done really well with how they have approached this period. When we saw this was going to last quite a long time, they changed training approach to keep a basic condition. Now, as we’re getting closer to racing, intensity has increased for race preparation.

“We can see mentally that they are really looking forward to going back to racing and are enthusiastic about the last work that needs to be put down now.”

Dr David Hulse – Team Doctor and RACESAFE leader:
“The opportunity to complete the season is welcomed by both riders and staff, as we have all endured a challenging and unsettling period, but despite the success of many European countries in emerging from lockdown restrictions, some risk still remains. 

“The UCI, race organisers and all team doctors have also been very active in developing new procedures around testing and infrastructure to reduce risks presented by COVID-19 within the race bubble.  Our role as team doctors is to oversee the risk mitigation and enable the riders and sports directors to focus on racing.

“We have developed our RACESAFE document to minimise risk across all our team activities.  We have fantastic group of staff whose understanding of how the team operates has been invaluable in developing comprehensive infection-control processes.

“We are all responsible for protecting each other but I’ve no doubt that, despite the pressures and challenges that COVID-19 risk mitigation will bring, we’ll be able to maintain the camaraderie and atmosphere around racing that this team is known for.”

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