The column: Let’s use this time to consider the future we want for cycling
The Tour de France will not happen this year. It may not be official but that doesn’t make it any less factual. It might sound like we’re abandoning hope, there are plenty of reasons why, when that official announcement does come, it would be only correct for the UCI to also call the cancellation of the rest of the 2020 cycling season.
While we do not know any better than anyone else how this crisis will play out, the most significant sporting event on the calendar, the Olympics, has already been postponed. While a few minor or domestic sporting events might conceivably be held behind closed doors, cycling has no doors to close. That puts any possible resumption of the season beyond the date at which that would have originally taken place. That means a month, at most, for something – or everything – to happen. What then would it be?
Then there would be too many dangling questions, too many conflicts, between governments, organisers, teams, riders, media, fans, for the ducks to fall into line.
Why should, by sheer coincidence of calendar, Il Lombardia go ahead when De Ronde and Milan-Sanremo couldn’t? Equally, if they were to reschedule the Tour of Flanders for late season, why should those late season races suffer, because of their place in the hierarchy?
From an athletic point of view, every country is going to relax its rules on isolation and social distancing at different times, meaning some riders will be able to get out and train sooner than others.
Moreover the countries themselves will be in mourning. With no end in sight, two of cycling’s great nations, Spain and Italy, are among the hardest hit. Any northern European town or city or village visited by any kind of race will have lost people. Any number of riders themselves will have as well.
Even if none of those things were true, the logistics of organising anything else would be, at this stage, nigh impossible. To employ cycling’s fondest phrase, we’re all just taking it day by day, aren’t we?
So it won’t happen. We know it won’t. And yet…
What if it were possible? What if, by some miracle, this virus could be near as dammit wiped off the face of the earth before the summer is out? What if, then, the umpteen different stakeholders could somehow come together and find a way to create, as Ned Boulting talked about on last week’s podcast, “a two or three week festival of cycling, which nods to the territory of Italy, Spain and France”?
It could, he suggests, incorporate parts of the Monuments missed, maybe the Worlds, obviously every Grand Tour. It could serve as a celebration of the whole sport. It would give every rider, women and men, from one-day heroes to super-domestiques, a chance to play their part.
It’s a beautiful, positive idea. Remove the odds of it actually happening from the equation and it’s still a worthwhile thought experiment to conduct. Doing so might even lead us to envisage a new shape for professional cycling, free from the trappings of “we’ve always done it this way”, whenever the sport does finally resume.
Let’s treat this as year zero. An opportunity to solve some or all of those long-standing, existential problems – from the incoherent season-long narrative, to inequality of the sexes, to the preposterous, precarious business model – that have held cycling back for so long. Whenever heads are clear enough to do so, we should get them together, set aside differences, agendas and interests and find a way forward for the good of the sport.
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Brainstorm. Spitball ideas. Get down to some blue sky thinking (but stay inside.) There are no stupid suggestions.
We should think about these things, because if not now, when? We should think about these things because if the crisis is teaching us anything, it is that anything is possible. We should think about these things because hope springs eternal. We should think about these things because this too shall pass.
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