Friday 10 April 2020

Cyclists battle through the lockdown

I recently worked on an article for Cycling Weekly about cycling during lockdown, and how professional cycle racers are managing to stay fit and healthy during this period.
Opening pages of the Cycling Weekly feature I co-wrote with Rebecca Charlton
There's nothing more frustrating than not being able to do the sport you love. But spare a thought for those who cycle train and race for a living - those whose lives are dominated by a timetable of races, and a training schedule plus lifestyle based on being on top form for your next race.

Imaging you are all set to thrash it out on the roads of Belgium or Italy at the Spring Classics races, then suddenly you are told that you have to stop everything and staying indoors for the foreseeable future. That has been the case for those professional cycle racers living in Italy, Spain and France. Strictly speaking, it's possible to cycle outdoors in France but given the rules only one hour of exercise within a 1km-radius of home, biking options outdoors are quite limited.

Attilo Viviani, the younger brother of World Track Cycling Champion Elia Viviani had endured a 10-day lockdown in Abu Dhabi when the United Arab Emirates Tour was abruptly ended after some team members tested positive for Coronavirus. He then returned to his home in Verona, only to be enter into another lockdown throughout Italy the following week.

"This is my first season as a pro so it is strange for me, but also for guys aged 35 as well - no one has ever lived through a season like this. To stay motivated, I speak to our Italian Director Sportive, Roberto Damiani every couple of days."

Then Elisa Longo Borghini didn't even get to race at all. After overcoming an early-season flu which precluded her from competing in the Omloop Het Niewsblad race, she was all set to do the Strade Bianche a race where she has previously performed well. But the computer said no, and she has had to stay at home.

"I had been really in shape for the Spring Classics. So now it's like starting winter training again; I have space in my house to do gym work and the rollers. Using Zwift helps, as the time passes faster than with just music. [....] I just have to believe things will come good. I need to do what my trainer says and what my country says, to protect the weakest. My motivation to train is knowing that once I am able to wear an Italian jersey, I will wear it with pride." 

For new rider, Teniel Campbell she has had a lot to process. In this, her first year as professional, after arriving from Trinidad and Tobago and completing the UCI training course in Switzerland, Campbell was all set to make her mark. She became the first woman from Trinidad and Tobago to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics cycle road race, and with her Valcar-Travel & Service Team she had finished in the top five in a few races.

Based in Bergamo, the epicentre of the pandemic in Italy, and for a time in Europe, Campbell has had to deal not just with being unable to ride as normal, but also living alone through the angst, anxiety and ambulance sirens far away from her family.

"Initially professional riders could train on the roads, and my coach told me I must always cycling in the company of another rider, which was safer because some drivers got angry at us when they saw us on the roads and would honk their horns a lot more. But now under complete quarantine, the only time I go outdoors is to the supermarket or to take out the garbage.

"It has become a mental challenge. I am alone in the house and I am also now training alone indoors. However, I have the necessary support both in Trinidad and Tobago and from my team here in Italy. I have realised I do not know how not to be an athlete. For two years, I have been a full-time elite athlete 24 hours a day - training, stressing my body, coming home tired, eating, sleeping.[....] Now there is more free time, I must find a way to make the most of my time and be productive. It's not easy, but this too shall pass." 

No doubt turbo trainers and Zwift apps are getting used to the maximum right now, and I guess there's a lot of discipline and self-control needed to avoid the biscuit tin or the wine rack.
In addition, team support has become ever more important, with sports directors, coaches, and other team mates having to look out for one another, as the mental health is just important, if not more important than the physical health of the riders.

It is not clear how long the lockdown will continue for, or when this dreaded disease will subside, but we can only hope that riders and teams will come out on the other side of this scourge without long-lasting scars.

Here is the full article on the Cycling Weekly website

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