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Matt White: The Situation, the Tour, the Season

Tue 31 Mar 2020

After almost four weeks since our initial decision to withdraw from all racing due to concerns around the impact of COVID-19, we caught up with head sport director Matt White to see where the team is currently placed and his thoughts on the remainder of the year, including the Tour de France.

What is the current situation for the men’s Mitchelton-SCOTT team?
“At the moment, a lot of the team is in our third week of lockdown. We have guys spread all across Europe, and a couple of guys in Australasia and America.

“Approximately 85-90% of our team are in total lockdown, which means they can’t leave their house except to access essential services, so in essence, to go food shopping.

“That’s obviously having an effect on what training they are able to do – it means they are training on a home trainer, and maybe doing some gym stuff in their garage.”

What type of training programs are the riders undertaking?
“Training at the moment very much relies on the individual, where they were at when we went into lockdown and where they are going to head for the remainder of the year.

“Obviously the Classics guys were just approaching a peak period for their part of the season. Some of these guys have kept up training to replicate the periodisation of when their Classics season was going to finish in 10days to two weeks times. Some of them kept up with a bit of intensity and structured training, and then they will have their ‘rest’ after Roubaix as they would have normally.

“Other guys, for example guys who were preparing for the Giro d’Italia, their goals have been shifted, so at the moment they are doing a bit of light stuff, mainly to keep fresh mentally.

“They aren’t used to doing nothing, so a lot of guys are just ticking along with training, staying mentally active, jumping on some BikeExchange – Where the World Rides Series sessions on Zwift with the team and socialising with their teammates online. 

“I think we will only see now, over the next week to 10 days, that these guys will start a little bit more structured training and building up to hopefully a time when there is a little bit more freedom to go out on the road and start to prepare normally again.”

What is the difference for riders who can’t train outside compared to those who can, and will this be a disadvantage when racing commences?
“The clear difference between those stuck inside and those allowed outside is volume.  We’ve seen some special guys jump on and do some pretty ridiculous home trainer sessions, but in general, that’s not for everyone.

“The guys who can get out on the road now can get out and do 4-5hr rides, which is the norm. Whereas the guys at home are on the home trainer for an hour to 90min at the most. They are probably going at a bit higher intensity but they’re just not able to do the volume of training they would normally.

“We hope that towards the middle to end of April everyone can be back on the road to some degree, so when you look at our starting point, which in the best case scenario is June, I think everyone will have a month to 6 weeks on the road before we start competing. I think by the time we start back into competition it’ll be a pretty level playing field.”

How are riders coping mentally during this period?
“So far so good. We’re only a few weeks in but I’m sure it’ll wear down on people as more time passes, not just riders but the general population.

“The biggest thing is that we just don’t know where the finish line is, which means we don’t know when we are going to start back into competition. One thing for sure, is that we’re not racing in the month of April or May so the most positive possibility is racing in June.

“We hope for the areas such as Italy, Spain and France there is around two or so weeks to go and after that they will lessen the restriction on movement.

“Everyone understands why we are in complete lockdown and for a short period of time it’s OK, but for an extended period I don’t think that’s healthy for the general population and we hope to see some ability for responsible exercise at the least.”

How are riders handling nutrition during lockdown?
“Guys have to be very stringent on what they are consuming at the moment because they are just not putting out the same amount of energy expenditure as they normally would.

“We’ve got some guys who don’t really struggle with weight at all and those guys might put on a little bit of weight, and we’re talking a couple of hundred grams, but then other guys have to be really careful.

“The last thing you’d want is to have a month at home and come back 3kg heavier. Then you’re behind the eight-ball because not only do you have to increase training load, but you also have to lose weight. That’s sometimes things riders deal with in the off-season, but not in the middle of the season and that’s where we are at the moment.”

Do you support the running of the Tour de France, in its current dates or on delayed dates?
“The team and all teams support what is best for the general population.

“I am pretty sure by the month of July things might have calmed down a considerable amount, but will they have calmed down enough to safely support a couple of thousand people, coming together from different parts of Europe and the world, for the Tour de France?

“We’re not talking about 4-5 venues, we are a travelling circus. We’re talking about 2000 people; teams, media, logistics and movement between 20 hotels over 25 days.

“Safety has to remain the priority.

“By May, I think we’re going to have to see the virus nearly out in most of Europe for ASO to consider it running on the dates that it is currently set for. By then you hope athletes are also on the road. If athletes aren’t on the road by May, there’s no way you can run competition in June. We have to have some competition before the Tour de France.  You can’t have the Tour de France as the first race. That doesn’t work for the riders, simple as that.

“The next 4-5weeks is crucial, that the virus infections come down to a very low level in Europe. At the moment we’re not seeing that, and I would think that as it stands at the moment, it would be pretty hard to run the Tour de France at the current dates starting at the end of June.

“But now with the Olympics off the cards, it does leave a window for later in July and even early August. Maybe that’s the most viable option to run the Tour de France in full, and I’m sure that’s what the ASO want to do – they want to run a three-week Tour de France.”

What do you think about a Tour de France without crowds?
“The Tour de France without crowds would be weird. But, a lot of our early season races and smaller races don’t have big crowds. It would feel strange for the riders, to be competing at our showcase event with minimal people, but it would work.

“Even if there was only the 2000 people travelling, it would be a positive for the French ecomony, and obviously the TV audience would be huge because people are looking for things to watch and once sport does recommence, I am sure it would rate highly.

“It’s viable and we could do it, but the bigger question is how do we move that circus around France in a safe way. At the end of the day it has to be safe for the French public, safe for everyone in that travelling group and achievable for the French resources.”

What would the field look like if the Tour de France went ahead?
“For the guys that were preparing for the Tour de France, nothing has changed. The only thing that has changed is that because the Giro isn’t where it was and there’s no Olympics, a few of the Giro riders have been added to the Tour de France long list and are competing for spots.

“If the Tour de France does go ahead in full, it’ll be the best field ever.

“The Giro has never not been on before the Tour de France, and because we’ve been starved of a couple of months of racing in Spring, people aren’t going to be ‘sitting out’ to wait for the Vuelta. In a normal season this happens because they’ve already ridden the Giro, or a young rider can wait for the Vuelta because they’ve had a lot of racing in Spring.

“I think in the best case scenario, there will be a lot of guys hitting the Tour de France with 20 race days under their belt, some will be even less, and that’s if Suisse and Dauphine run beforehand. 

“It’s going to be strange, but it would be a very competitive race.”

Photo courtesy of Kristof Ramon.

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