Matt White: It'll be a pretty level playing field by the time competition starts

Cyclingnews
Mitchelton-Scott head sports director Matt White talks to the media at the 2019 Tour de France pre-race press conference

Mitchelton-Scott head sports director Matt White says he believes if racing restarts in mid-June that the majority of riders will have had enough training on the road to create a level playing field.

In an interview released by Mitchelton-Scott, White revealed that "85-90 per cent" of the team's riders are currently under complete lockdown, in which they can't leave their homes except to access essential services, and he addressed concerns that riders who are able to train outside will have an advantage when racing resumes later this summer.

"We hope that towards the middle to end of April everyone can be back on the road to some degree," White said. "So when you look at our starting point, which in the best-case scenario is June, I think everyone will have a month to six 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."

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Nonetheless, White admitted that, at the moment, riders who can currently train on the road are getting more fitness than riders who are stuck on home trainers.

"The guys who can get out on the road now can get out and do four-five-hour rides, which is the norm," he said. "Whereas the guys at home are on the home trainer for an hour to 90 minutes at the most. They are probably going at a bit of a higher intensity, but they're just not able to do the volume of training they would normally."

White said the Mitchelton-Scott riders are doing a variety of workouts at home, depending on their goals and current level of fitness.

"Obviously, the Classics guys were just approaching a peak period for their part of the season," he said. "Some of these guys have kept up training to replicate the periodisation of when their Classics season was going to finish in 10 days' to two weeks' time. Some of them kept up with a bit of intensity and structured training, and then they will have their 'rest' after Paris-Roubaix [original April 12 date], as they would have normally.

"Other guys, for example guys who were preparing for the Giro d'Italia, have had their goals shifted," White said. "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."

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Nutritional requirements for the riders have also changed.

"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," he said. "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," he said. "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 something riders deal with in the off-season, but not in the middle of the season, and that's where we are at the moment."

Tour de France in limbo

White also addressed the current status of the 2020 Tour de France, whose fate race organisers ASO said they would reveal in April. White said he believes the worst of the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic will have passed by July, but he wondered if conditions would be such that a race would be safe.

"I am pretty sure that, 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?" he said.

"We're not talking about four or five venues; we are a travelling circus. We're talking about 2,000 people – teams, media, logistics – and movement between 20 hotels over 25 days. Safety has to remain the priority."

White said if ASO wants to keep the current Tour dates (June 27-July 19), riders need to be back on the road training by May.

"If athletes aren't on the road by May, there's no way you can run a competition in June," he said. "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.

"In the next four-to-five weeks, it's crucial that the virus infections come down to a very low level in Europe," he said. "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."

White suggested that with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics having been postponed until 2021, the ASO has an opportunity to move the race further back in July or possibly even to 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 wants to do – they want to run a three-week Tour de France," he said, adding that a Tour de France without crowds would be "weird" but viable, as long as it is safe to do so.

And, he said, if the race does go ahead, it could be one of the best fields 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 a España," he reasoned. "In a normal season that 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 have even less, and that's if the Tour de Suisse and the Critérium du Dauphiné run beforehand," he said.  

"It's going to be strange, but it would be a very competitive race."