Coronavirus to have final say over cycling’s new calendar, fears Dean Downing

Planning: Coach Dean Downing with cyclist Jake Womersley, left.  Picture: Bruce RollinsonPlanning: Coach Dean Downing with cyclist Jake Womersley, left.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Planning: Coach Dean Downing with cyclist Jake Womersley, left. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
ROAD cycling’s revised calendar has given riders and teams something to aim for as they begin to come out of lockdown, but Yorkshire stalwart Dean Downing has warned it may prove overly ambitious in the face of the covid-19 threat.

The sport has been in limbo since March, with all events, including the Tour de Yorkshire which should have been raced last weekend and the blue riband trio of three-week Grand Tours, cancelled or postponed.

After lockdown restrictions in some countries were eased, the UCI, World cycling’s governing body, this week announced a highly ambitious restart plan.

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That would see more than 100 days of racing crammed into 15 weeks between Strade Bianche on August 1 and the end of the Vuelta a Espana on November 8 for men, with women racing 37 days in the same period.

Dean Downing in his final years as a pro cyclist (Picture: Malcolm Billingham)Dean Downing in his final years as a pro cyclist (Picture: Malcolm Billingham)
Dean Downing in his final years as a pro cyclist (Picture: Malcolm Billingham)

The Tour de France, normally ridden in July, has been rescheduled for August 29-September 20 and the two other Grand Tours will overlap with the Giro d’Italia set for October 3-25 and a shortened Vuelta slated for October 20 to November 8.

Though Downing feels the UCI have taken the right approach, he also has reservations about how practical the plan may be.

“I think as an organisation the UCI have got to give World Tour teams, male and female, some sort of light at the end of the tunnel,” said the 41-year-old from Rotherham, who is a coach at Downing Cycling alongside his brother and fellow ex-professional rider Russell.

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“I do feel that is what they have done, which is great, so people can start to refocus and have that as a starting goal, but I think you have to be realistic and say the coronavirus around the world is uncontrollable.

“Every nation is trying to control it with their lockdowns, so everything is out of their (the UCI’s) control.

“At least they have put a plan together for everybody; whether it is achievable or not, I think we will start to see week by week the closer we get.

“They can only plan to what they feel they can do, but in the bigger scheme of things, the coronavirus is in control.”

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For elite riders, the opening months of the season are traditionally built around preparing for the Tour de France.

This year that preparation has been shattered and Downing feels the world’s greatest race will be an unpredictable affair if it does take place.

“It is down to the teams and how they are approaching it,” he added.

“Will the riders be ready?

“Every single rider on the World Tour who has been in lockdown will have lost a lot of fitness; you can’t do the same number of hours and put your body through the same stress as you can outdoors.

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“It is going to be very personal to where riders have been during this tough time and it will definitely be a very different race if it goes ahead.

“It is going to be a really crazy time when it gets going again.”

Technology could hold the key to how riders and teams fare this summer and autumn with Zwift, an indoor virtual training app, providing an opportunity for some competitive racing.

Downing coaches riders both at home and abroad, where some have been confined to their homes for two months.

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“There has been a lot of refocusing for the riders and for me as a coach; the planning totally goes out the window when there’s no end goal,” he observed.

“Cycling has had to take a back seat and health has become very important around the world.

“Over the last eight-week period things have changed a lot, but I’ve got a lot of riders who have continued with building fitness.

“Some are riding outside because they can in different countries, but I have got a couple of riders in Spain who have been in lockdown for eight weeks.

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“That has been very tough, but they have been training indoors on Zwift.

“You can’t do that every day, though, because you are going to crack and put your body through a lot of stress.

“I have been talking with riders regularly to try and keep their morale high in these tough times.

“Luckily in this country, people can ride outdoors so they are still training well.”

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