Cycling-European riders grind to a halt with season suspended
By Julien Pretot
PARIS, March 18 (Reuters) - The coronavirus pandemic has left a lot of professional riders unable to hit the road to compete or train with the biggest race in the world, the Tour de France, due to start in just over three months.
All cycling races up to the end of April have already been cancelled and riders in France and Spain, where many are based, have been explicitly told they cannot train outside.
"An exception is unthinkable, it is clear that the lockdown applies to all, athletes included," said French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.
"For the moment I'm not training, I'm taking a one-week break," Trek-Segafredo's French rider Julien Bernard told Reuters on Wednesday. "We don't know when racing will resume, at best at the end of May."
The International Cycling Union (UCI) on Wednesday said once the season resumes it will give priority to "events on the calendar at the date of resumption" and to the five Monuments (Milan-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Tour of Lombardy) and three Grands Tours (Italy, France, Spain).
The Monuments, with the exception of October's Tour of Lombardy, have already been postponed, as well as the Giro d'Italia, which was scheduled from May 9-31.
The organisers of the Tour de France have not yet considered postponing the June 27-July 19 event, which is due to finish five days before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
Bernard believes arrangements will be made for athletes in France.
"For now it's only two weeks then authorities will probably take measures for professional athletes, so there's no panic," he said.
French authorities imposed a two-week lockdown, however making clear the confinement would likely be extended.
In Italy, where similar measures have been taken, riders can still go out to train, but Under-23 world champion Samuele Battistella said he suffered a barrage of insults on social media for riding his bike in the centre of Bassano del Grappa in the Province of Vincenza.
"I can't ride with a banner on my back saying 'I am working'," the rider from the Veneto region told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Others, like Swiss rider Sebastien Reichenbach, believe it is wiser to stay at home.
"I would have a bad conscience if I crashed and were to occupy a hospital bed," the Groupama FDJ rider told Swiss newspaper Le Nouvelliste.
"So I ride on my home trainer and do other physical activities. To be honest I don't think about the current season anymore."
That approach has been followed by his team mate and Tour de France podium finisher Thibaut Pinot of France, who has been posting pictures of his fishing catches on social media. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)