The coronavirus may have shut down competitive cycling for the foreseeable future but the situation is giving fans the ideal chance to test themselves directly against Grand Tour winners.
As shutdowns spread across Europe and the world, professional cyclists are just like many others as they find themselves forced to work from home.
The solution for many is to go online, using platforms such as Zwift to take part in virtual races and training sessions that allow fans to join in from the (dis)comfort of their own turbo trainers.
— Geraint Thomas (@GeraintThomas86) March 14, 2020
Geraint Thomas, winner of the 2018 Tour de France, has been hosting his own races, while Mitchelton-Scott – the team of 2018 Vuelta a Espana winner Simon Yates and his twin brother Adam – have almost daily events planned, with riders from their men’s and women’s squads taking part.
Adam Yates was planning to be racing at Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy this weekend, but instead spent his Sunday morning battling online rivals from his home in Andorra, with the whole event broadcast live online by the team complete with commentary.
“We can’t do too much training because we don’t know when the next race is,” Yates told the PA news agency. “You can’t keep going full gas but you need to keep ticking over, just keeping fit, keep active.
“Doing the Zwift sessions keeps me motivated, it keeps morale high.”
Races are handicapped, meaning the likes of Yates and his team-mates start out in the back and, chances are, will come along and overtake you sooner or later, though the standard of some Zwift users means it is not always so straightforward.
“There’s loads of people on there that can beat you!” Yates said. “You go on there and all of a sudden there are lots of people who can pump out the same watts as you.
“That’s the good thing, it keeps you competitive. It’s a bit of fun but you can get stuck in.”
🚨 CALENDAR RELEASE 🚨
After the success of Sunday's 'Homage Gravel Ride' where 1300 fans joined 30 of our pros on @GoZwift, we've released our upcoming event schedule today.
Which rides will you join us for? 🤗
— Mitchelton-SCOTT (@MitcheltonSCOTT) March 11, 2020
Adam won his first career WorldTour stage race last month with victory in the truncated UAE Tour – having held the leader’s red jersey when it was announced the final two stages would be cancelled due to two suspected cases of the virus among support staff.
That left Yates to celebrate his victory amid a lockdown of all riders and participants, something the Lancastrian describes with his customary understatement as “a bit of a weird situation”.
Within days Mitchelton-Scott announced they were withdrawing from all racing until March 22, a hiatus subsequently extended as races across the world are postponed or cancelled, meaning Yates and his team-mates don’t know when or where they might return to competition.
“Everyone is in the same boat, not just us,” he said. “We just have to keep fit and wait for the call. If we find out a week before that a race is on, we’ve got to be ready to go.”
— UCI_media (@UCI_media) March 15, 2020
Like Adam Yates, Thomas had been due to ride Tirreno-Adriatico, but when that was pulled switched focus to the Volta Catalunya only to see that postponed too.
“I’m not ready to retire yet because when these races are being cancelled, I’m annoyed,” the 33-year-old Thomas said on his Watts Occurring podcast with Ineos team-mate Luke Rowe.
“You don’t really know you miss something until it’s gone. I just want to race my bike.”