Cram-session: Condensing a season into four months

by Sadhbh O'Shea

Professional sport has been trickling back into our lives since it came to a crashing halt in March. It will be a long time before we return to filled stadiums and packed roadsides but, bit by bit, sports have started to pick up where they left off in the spring.

Cycling has taken longer than many to resume, which is of little surprise given the nature of it. Bringing in riders and staff from all corners of the world and travelling from place to place in close proximity to tens, if not hundreds, of other people is a complex prospect at the best of times.

With less than half the year remaining, races are gradually popping up and it won’t be long before the truncated calendar is in full flow. From relying on old YouTube videos and e-racing to find our cycling fix, we will be spoilt for choice as the UCI try to cram an entire season into four months like a 16-year-old revising the night before an exam.

The women’s is calendar is tightly packed but the overlaps in major events are few and far between. Women’s teams are so limited in numbers it would be very difficult to run dual programmes for long. On the other hand, the men’s season will see more clashes than a heavyweight final.

Beginning as it means to go on, Il Lombardia will run alongside the Criterium du Dauphine. Tirreno-Adriatico will have to fight for air space against the all-consuming Tour de France and some riders will be forced to decide between the Tour and a potential rainbow jersey as the men’s World Championship time trial takes place on its final weekend. That’s just August and September. I do not envy the teams as they try to plan this truncated season.

The calendar is a chaotic attempt to have everything, despite the time and conditions not being behind the sport as things stand. Even Formula 1, which cycling often longs to be like, has taken a saw to their season to accommodate the global situation.

Don’t get me wrong, I am chomping at the bit to see some racing on my television screen and I will consume as much racing as I possibly can when the time comes. Without having to miss work or stop seeing my family, I am not sure I will have enough hours in the day to get through it all as it happens. Thought, I’m sure my family would understand.

The calendar is such that riders and teams will have to make some tough decisions. Do you want to attempt the Ardennes or the Giro, Il Lombardia or the Dauphine, take a world title or race the Tour? Race pelotons all over will be watered down somewhat as teams are forced to make difficult decisions about their priorities. Perhaps the only race that won’t see its peloton diluted is the Tour de France because the Tour is the Tour, sorry I had to get that one in early.

We’ve already seen Tom Dumoulin sacrifice chance for another time trial world title for a shot at the Tour de France. Meanwhile, Stefan Kung (pictured above) will leave the Grand Tour early to take a punt at the Worlds TT.

For their sponsors and their futures, race organisers are understandably keen to hold an event this season, whoever competes in it. I wonder, though, if the thin spreading of riders across the events will take the sheen off some contests that would have delivered some exciting racing in an ordinary season. The men’s World Championship time trial might not be a prime example, though the tête-à-tête between Dumoulin and Rohan Dennis has been a joy to watch in recent years.

Tirreno-Adriatico runs the risk of being swamped by the Tour, as do the Canadian pair of races in Quebec and Montreal. The Ardennes overlapping with the Giro d’Italia, along with the chaos of Paris-Roubaix, the Giro and the Vuelta a Espana taking place all on the same day, will no doubt have a big impact on the depth within their respective pelotons. I grant you that Paris-Roubaix is a different kettle of fish, so it may suffer less in that regard. Perhaps we’ve all been deprived of cycling so much that maybe it won’t matter.

The coming months will be a balancing act for all involved and the spectre of coronavirus will be looming over everything for the foreseeable future. It still all seems so precarious with coronavirus hotspots popping up like some horrific game of whack-a-mole. How easily would the season come crashing around our ears if a rider, team member or journalist tested positive for the virus?

With numerous restrictions and protocols in place, replacing injured – or locked down – riders at the last minute will be complicated and we may see some teams being forced to begin races without a full complement of riders.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and now all we can do is wait and see where the next few months take us.

Discover more of Sadhbh’s work >

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