When will we see racing come back?

The impacts of COVID-19 has seen the world shut down the majority of populated events, so where and when will we see cycling in 2020?  

This article is a collection of quotes collected for the writing of a more focused article for SBS Cycling Central, but there was plenty of interesting things left over so I adapted it for a piece here.

Speculation abounds as to what the world will look like in the coming months, and cycling in Australia at a domestic and Continental level is going to be impacted just as the rest of the world is. Australian Cycling Insider got in contact with a number of team managers, race organisers and administrators to see how the cycling community is looking into what shapes as a murky future.

Brett Dutton, manager of St George Continental saw up close what the immediate racing future may look like at the Tour of Taiwan, with daily heat tests of riders to diagnose potential coronavirus carriers at hotels and distancing measures coming into effect. It was a successful tour, with Ryan Cavanagh running second on the general classification after leading most of the race, but it was the end of the road for St George for the foreseeable future as they race predominantly on the Asian circuit.

“I really cannot see anything happening in Asia for the rest of the year,” said Dutton. “We have a race invite already for China for a few months time but I cannot see it going ahead and if it does I cannot see the travel ban lifted from this end for quite a few months yet so we will not be able to go.

“From my end I told all my guys to get a job if they didn’t have one already when we came back from Taiwan. Reason being, I was hopeful that racing might start up for the second half of the year and the riders may need to stay in Asia for an extended period possibly through to December, due to early season races being moved to later in the year.”

The stoppage of races has thrown into question the sponsorship of teams going forward, with riders relying upon the infrastructure of the teams to attend and compete in races.

“As far as sponsors and commitments go,” said Dutton, “we don’t really have any cash sponsorship to run the team so we can continue on no problem.  I am sure many teams around the world will fold as sponsors just will not have the cash to spend so it will be a very difficult time for our sport and many others.”

The worst news for St George, is that there potentially will be a fall off in events, with a lot of cycling set to fit into the final months of the cycling calendar, which is normally where a lot of the Asian racing falls. However, Dutton sees a future with a lot of government-backed races able to procede in the post-coronavirus world.  

“As far as race viability goes,” said Dutton. “I don’t think China will have a problem coming up with the funds to run events. I am not sure if governments in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are handing out cash stimulus like here but I doubt it so races in those countries should be sweet, as most of them are Government funded.”

Looking more at Australian events, administrators and event organisers are looking at what will make financial sense in an economy that will have a lot of people that are cash-strapped cut back on things like weekends away at races and racing memberships. Lachlan Ambrose, CEO of Cycling South Australia (CSA) confirmed that there have been a few members asking for money back on their reacing memberships.

“There have been a few,” said Ambrose. “Our position at the moment is to wait and see how long it goes on for, we don’t run races over winter, so that will only affect one of two events. It’s not a black or white thing where you give blanket refunds.

“With memberships being annual, we’ll definitely lose some but even if people are only racing for 6 months of the year, it’s spread over 12 months and so the financial impact on our sport might be a bit smaller than others. We’ll probably have some of our losses offset by the government stimulus.”

What is guaranteed to affect members and riders for the rest of 2020 is the postponement and cancellation of events, which projects to be affecting a wide swathe of events into the later stages of the year.

“From a CSA perspective, the hardest bit will be working out what to reschedule and what to put off for 12 months,” said Ambrose. “The track league was supposed to be the week after next, obviously not happening, but that’s something we can copy and paste into a later month.

“For a road event, you’re looking at three months to get a permit from the police to run road closures. Anyone who has an event coming in the next four to five months has been focused on the back-end things, stuff that you can change the date on and re-submit the application. That’s what a lot of events will do rather than build up a lot of things that might have to get torn down.

“Considering the hierarchy of events that are going to have to re-schedule over the next 12 months, from the Tour de France down to your local club crit, there’s a lot of things to fit into a pretty small timeframe, so a lot of people are going to have to be realistic about what we can run this year.”

Flow-on costs from the general downturn in the Australian economy has the potential to disrupt the cycling industry as well, not only with sponsors pulling out, but pillars of industry crumbling.

“CSA has about $40,000 sitting in flight credits with Virgin at the moment,” said Ambrose, “so if Virgin goes belly up that will be pretty painful.”

Ambrose also runs National Road Series (NRS) team Butterfields- Insurance Advisernet, which faces its own indirect economic impact.

“There’s other challenges, with the dollar crashing, whatever it is, 20 per cent at the moment,” said Ambrose, “which is a 20 per cent increase in a lot of our costs in kit, etc, coming from overseas.”

“We’re having informal conversations with our sponsors about 2021, I think it’s easier with long-standing relationships like ours. Races are going to have a harder time with some of the community related sponsorship they’ve relied upon in the past. I think things will be tough for domestic, elite level cycling for the next few years.”

Looking for silver linings is difficult at the moment, but perhaps the big bonus has been for that time to work on projects that get put by the wayside and Ambrose has a few of those that he has relished tackling.

“Working in cycling, you spend a lot of time working on day-to-day deliverables rather than the bigger projects,” said Ambrose. “So I’ve looked into things like risk-management, written a bushfire cancellation guide, just getting an opportunity to do things that don’t get done when there’s an event on Sunday that needs something done. It’s been nice to do some of those projects and actually work a ‘nine to five’ for once.”

With a lot of the cycling world finding extra time on their hands until racing returns, there will be plenty twiddling their thumbs and spending time on projects until the big races return.

By Jamie Finch-Penninger