PROFESSIONAL CYCLING IN CORONA TIMES

Professional cycling has started up again with the first races after a long break due to corona. Both road racing and mountain biking has a packed calendar of events. However, there will be no UCI races in Germany. Here’s an overview of the current situation.

The 2020 Tour de France is scheduled to start on 29 August. At present, it’s not exactly clear what will happen with the world’s best-known race. In an interview with the Augsburger Allgemeiner Zeitung newspaper, German pro rider Rick Zabel described the event’s overall concept as “fragile”. If there is an infection among the riders, this could mean the end of the race. However, the race is enormously important for the sport itself. If television revenue and sponsorship money was to stop, several teams would have to fold. Salary cuts and cost-cutting measures have been on the agenda for the last few months as it as.

As such, the Tour de France marks the start of a “tough autumn” for professional cyclists. On 03 October, the Giro d’Italia starts rolling, to be closely followed by the Vuelta a España on 20 October. The two races even overlap for several days. In addition, the Spring Classics are going to be rescheduled too. However, there will be no professional cycle races in Germany. The Deutschland Tour was cancelled earlier this year and after much toing and froing in mid-July the city of Hamburg cancelled the Cyclassics race, which should have started on 03 October with professional riders. “It’s a great shame as this year would have been the 25th anniversary edition of the event, however you have to put health and safety first,” says Volker Dohrmann, Chief Brand & Product Officer, Stevens Bikes. The Hamburg company is not just an important sponsor of road racing, it’s also actively involved in the cyclocross scene. At present, it’s not still not clear whether the legendary cyclocross races that draw large numbers of spectators in the Netherlands and Belgium, and are also popular in North Germany, will take place at all. At the start of July, three of the 14 World Cup rounds were cancelled either due to corona or due to calendar clashes with other rescheduled cycling events. “Of course, we hope that races can take place. What they will look like and whether spectators will be allowed, we just don’t know at present,” says Volker Dohrmann.

The situation is similar with mountain biking. The UCI did publish a race calendar, but this then had to be altered. They cancelled the first UCI Mountain Bike World Cup race scheduled for the start of September that was due to take place in Lenzerheide (Switzerland). This is said to be due to the inability to plan ahead with certainty for major events. Races without spectators are not an option either, as the total number of riders and team members on the course would already exceed the maximum number of no more than 1,000 people allowed at any one event in Switzerland. However, the 2020 Mountain Bike Cross-Country World Championships in Leogang, Austria is scheduled for mid-October and said to be going ahead.

“We definitely miss the feedback from competitions.”

It’s hard to predict what effect the cancelled races will have on product development. “Competition athletes play an important role in product development,” explains Doris Klytta, Head of Marketing and Communication at tyre manufacturer Schwalbe. “We definitely miss the feedback from competitions.” Everyone is pleased that racing can re-start, so that new prototypes can be put to the test in extreme conditions. It’s said that athletes have had more time to talk with product designers over the past few months. “We’ve made the most of this opportunity,” says Doris Klytta.

 

Working with teams of professional riders is one thing. Promoting young talent and bringing on younger riders is another. Without racing, training and also media presence, cycling could lose its younger audience. The SKS Sauerland NRW team is well known for its youth work. To keep in touch during the corona period and offer possibilities for training team manager Jörg Scherf had to get creative. “As a team, we tried out unusual measures as a team to gain attention. We took part in virtual races and measured ourselves against others on Strava. During the corona phase, the Strava group has grew with 250 new members and WDR (the German public-broadcaster in North Rhine-Westphalia) reported on what the team was doing. “We’re showing that life goes on and that we can beat the crisis,” enthuses Jörg Scherf.

As a team, we tried out unusual measures as a team to gain attention.

Sponsors are aware of this commitment too. “We’ve seen how the team has actively explored alternatives to motivate its riders and maintain a presence with its supporters. Corona has not changed the team’s objectives, nor our objectives which we pursue together with them,” says the team’s main sponsor, SKS Germany.