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Due to the corona crisis, the current cycling season has been on hold since mid-March. Recently, the international cycling union UCI announced the plans for a new (provisional) cycling calendar containing all the major classics, the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España.
In a podcast by Fred Dreier on Velonews Richard Plugge, the managing director of Team Jumbo-Visma, looks ahead on the calendar in an optimistic way: “The calendar offers the necessary opportunities. It is very important for cycling that we still race this year. But the necessary sacrifices have to be made”, he said.
Plugge, who is still recovering from the coronavirus himself, emphasizes that it is possible to race this season, but then there must be a plan in which we limit the risks as much as possible.
“Before I got really sick from the coronavirus, I made the decision together with the team not to start in Paris-Nice and the Italian races Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo. At the time, there were just too many things unknown and uncertain. Since we didn’t know much about the virus at the time, there were no clear procedures and measures in place to keep it healthy and safe. As far as Paris-Nice was concerned, there were also no clear guarantees that they could offer us to ensure our health and safety. We then made the right decision not to start.”
“I think it is possible to race this year”, Plugge continues. “But then all procedures, measures and protocols must all be in order so that the races can take place in a safe way. And also, that the risks are limited as much as possible. Everyone, not only the riders, should be safe and healthy in a race. We can only achieve this together.”
"The calendar offers the necessary opportunities. It is very important for cycling that we still race this year. But the necessary sacrifices have to be made"
Plugge, who is also a board member of the AIGCP, the organisation that represents the interests of the professional cycling teams, is constantly in discussion and meetings with the UCI, the organisers and the cycling teams to come to a joint plan. Races without fans, as few people as possible per team and less media are real options that are being discussed.
“The measures and protocols that were taken in Paris-Nice were a step in the right direction. Especially with the facts about the virus that were known at the time. A plan is always based on the current knowledge and situation. No one knows how the virus will evolve. It may be gone the day after tomorrow, but it can also take months. It can also return just as hard. Nobody knows.”
“Cycling is normally a big circus with a lot of people involved: riders, staff members, organisation, public, journalists, photographers, et cetera. I believe it is only possible to race this season if you reduce all that to the absolute minimum. The fewer people, the better it is. Think of working in lines. That a certain group of riders and staff will be together as much as possible throughout the season. I also believe that you should really test everyone in advance. And that you also have to think about how we will deal with a positive test. That is why we need to come up with a good plan for the different scenarios, testing, quarantine, et cetera, in the coming weeks.”
The German government recently announced that the German football league can start again in empty stadiums, without fans. Plugge sees this decision as a great test case. “The restart of the Bundesliga is also an important test case for our sport. We can learn a lot from this. Whether the measures, procedures and protocols taken around the matches eventually will help or not. Testing the players, playing without fans, et cetera. This should show whether it is possible to race again in the future. To get to the start line and battle it out on the streets. Or that additional measures need to be taken.”
"We have a positive mindset. It should be possible, as long as we all strictly adhere to the protocols. Everyone benefits from racing this year."
Plugge is very hopeful. Behind the scenes Team Jumbo-Visma have worked hard the past weeks. “I am delighted that the UCI has come up with a new calendar”, he said in the podcast. “The calendar is very realistic, but we also have to take into account that it all can be over a week before the race. Most important is that the governments, particularly in France, Spain and Italy, are committed to supporting the plans as soon as possible. We can plan everything and work it out in detail, but ultimately our fate is in the hands of the authorities.”
“We have a positive mindset. It should be possible, as long as we all strictly adhere to the protocols. Everyone benefits from racing this year and everyone wants to race. And we need racing. It is really important it will happen. Everyone is working together on this and everyone is on the same page. So that’s why it’s imperative that we come up with a good plan regarding health and safety measures that we can present to the authorities. So that we can show them that we have found a way to make it happen.”
According to Plugge, it is therefore very important that the various authorities quickly provide clarity. “Organising and planning takes time. That is not something you can achieve from one day to another. Canceling a race is easy, organizing a race takes time. I am happy that there is a calendar of hope and expectations and that there are still so many organisers who want to organise this year. Let’s be happy with every race that can be held, but we also have to take into account that there will be races that will get cancelled.
“Also for us, as a team, it’s not always easy. We have to change a lot of our plans too. We have good, loyal sponsors with whom we have a long-term partnership and who continue to support us in this. For example, take the preparation for the Tour de France. That remains our main goal with Primoz, Tom and Steven. Normally that takes months of planning. And everything is planned and worked out to perfection, with altitude training and stage recons. That is not possible now because the borders are still closed. Those plans all need to be adjusted, but we are all in this together. We try to prepare ourselves as well as possible. I am not worried about that. We will be ready as Team Jumbo-Visma.”