The return to racing

After a long pause, our team readies itself for the roads again

Covid-19 has challenged each of us. Over the winter, our riders worked to prepare for the 2020 season. Long rides in the wet and cold lead to long stints away from home for training camps and the first early season races.

 

Those efforts were set to culminate with the Spring Classics—the most exciting and sought-after one-day races of the year. But, just a couple of weeks before Milano – Sanremo, the epidemic’s first wave began to swell in Europe. By Paris-Nice in the second week of March, the world’s medical professionals were rushing to the aid of rising numbers of struggling patients, and it became clear that the professional cycling season had to be postponed. After hearing so many tragic stories from families who had lost their loved ones to the disease, bike racing no longer seemed so important. The international federation put the season on hold, and our riders travelled home to wait out the lockdowns with their families.

 

“When the news came it was not entirely a surprise, given how things were developing at the time,” says EF Pro Cycling’s Head Sports Director Charly Wegelius. “It was clear that the situation was serious and changing fast. Travelling home from Paris-Nice, I had a feeling that it would be a while until we raced again. Nonetheless, looking back on that period now, I can see how hard it was to truly understand at that moment what was down the line.”

For the first time since most of them were kids, our riders would be spending the spring and early summer not travelling from race to race with their teammates, living for the thrill of chasing victories, but mostly cooped up indoors. They love spending most of their days on the open road. Cycling is their job, but it is also what keeps them in their right minds. The lucky ones were able to ride outside, usually alone, and then in smaller groups as the lockdowns eased. Others had to spend week after week riding indoor trainers.

 

When Mitch DockerMitch Docker was finally allowed to return to the roads in Girona, Spain, he couldn’t stop smiling.

 

“Training indoors has made me stronger, and all I wanted to do was to tear the road up and feel speed again,” he says.

 

Although a lot of uncertainty about the form of the 2020 season remained, race organizers and the international federation promised to do everything they could to ensure that there would be racing by mid-summer. The riders each had their own set of challenges to overcome, but they were all determined to be ready to race when the time would come.

 They worked hard, but also enjoyed the freedom of having a more open schedule.

 

Lachlan MortonLachlan Morton made international headlines with his ‘Everesting’ record. In June, he went out and, on his second attempt, climbed 8,848 vertical meters faster than anyone ever had before on a remote stretch of Colorado road (Spanish Tour de France winner Alberto Contador has since broken his record).

 

Alex HowesAlex Howes and a buddy rode 220 miles over dirt roads from Alex’s home in the Colorado mountains to the Kansas border on the day that Kanza was set to take place to celebrate the spirit of the iconic gravel race by reaching its home state.

 

Magnus Cort NielsenMagnus Cort went camping.

 

For Mike WoodsMike Woods, the lockdown provided some extra time to recuperate from the broken femur he suffered at Paris-Nice and spend some quality time with his baby daughter, Max.

 

“I think it has put a lot of things into perspective,” he says. “It’s made me realize how important it has been to be present with Max. I think it made me realize what’s most important to me.”

"The key here is to accept the situation for what it is, live with the incertitude and push on."

Don’t think that Mike is any less hungry to succeed though. Last week, the Canadian won the fifth stage up ‘Mont Ventoux’ in the virtual Tour de France.

 

“I’m really happy with my progress over the past few months,” he says, “and excited to finally put that form to the test.”

 

During the lockdown, Sports Director Charly Wegelius also enjoyed spending time with his family—and his bike.

 

“I think that my children will look back on this as the best summer ever,” he says. “I have never been home so much, and we have had some really great times together. We haven’t done anything special, for obvious reasons, but to be together with my family without the clock constantly ticking on the next trip has been great. I also started to ride my bike again, which has been an immense joy. I’m like a new beginner!”

Still, it was sometimes hard to maintain morale and the team spirit that inspires everyone at EF-Pro Cycling.

 

“In normal circumstances we are an extremely widespread group,” Charly explains, “so in that sense we were well used to the challenges of working remotely and trying to remain connected.  However, precisely for that reason, we normally rely on races and training camps to connect and communicate in a meaningful way. To maintain connection with people, while lacking the normal narrative of bike racing that binds us together has not always been easy.”

 

Countries are opening up again in Europe, and the riders are once again looking forward to doing what they do best. They will take on a shortened season together. Racing is set to begin on the first of August. The red flag will drop for the first time in nearly five months at the start of the Strade Bianche in Siena, and flags will then drop one after the other, with little respite, for the next three months. All three Grand Tours, the big Cclassics, and the world championships are set to be raced before the end of October.

“This will clearly be a challenge,” says Wegelius. “Of course, we have plenty of data to track and compare where the riders are compared to their normal levels. However, racing is the true litmus test, and until we see the riders in action, we will always be in the dark to some extent. The key here is to accept the situation for what it is, live with the incertitude and push on. I am confident that our riders and trainers are on the right track.”

 

They are certainly motivated. Perhaps, Lawson CraddockLawson Craddock put it best.

 

“Nothing about this year is normal, and it’s been all about adapting to the current situation. While that’s been tough at times, this sport has always forced us to prepare for anything at any given moment. Personally, I’m very excited…the first races will be incredibly stressful and difficult. We’ve all been able to focus on training over the last few months, and, without any racing, I’m sure that there will almost be a breaking in period where everyone finds their footing in a peloton. I’m definitely excited to get the season restarted.”

 

We are, too.