Cycling and coronavirus: Everything you need to know

As Covid-19 continues to cause concern and uncertainty around the world, what do cyclists need to know?

Professional cycling is one of the most international sports in the world, making it particularly susceptible to international events.

The outbreak of coronavirus, or Covid-19, has already had a significant impact on the cycling calendar, with races cancelled indefinitely, team staff and riders being diagnosed with the illness and more potential issues on the horizon.

>> Struggling to get out to the shops. Buy the latest issue of Cycling Weekly here, or try 6 issues for just £6 <<

A number of domestic teams have now suspended racing, while British Cycling and Cycling Time Trials have issued guidance based on government advice.

This page was last updated March 30, 3.30pm

Likewise, cyclists around the world are finding they can only do short, solo rides or in the case of those countries like Spain and Italy that are on full lockdown, confined to the turbo trainer for the forseeable future.

But what has already happened with coronavirus in cycling and what can we expect to happen next? Here is everything you need to know:

What is coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organisation, coronaviruses are a large family of illness ranging from a common cold to more serious conditions like SARS.

Covid-19, also called novel coronavirus, is an infectious disease in this family that has not previously been found in humans before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

Symptoms are similar to those of pneumonia, with sufferers experiencing fever, tiredness and dry cough. Some patients have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea.

While 80 per cent of people recover from the illness without treatment around one in six people can become seriously ill, while around two per cent of the people with the disease have died.

The virus spread from person to person through coughing or exhaling,

Worldwide, there are beyond 740,000 cases of Covid-19 with 35,000 deaths being linked to the virus.

Can I still ride my bike?

Image: Chris Catchpole

The British government has advised that we all avoid unnecessary travel and social contact, closing restaurants, pubs and clubs, but that doesn’t mean you need to stop riding your bike.

Dr Kate Hattersley, who works with charity Cycling UK, said for healthy riders under the age of 70:

“There is no reason for you to stop cycling at present but make sure to do so at a safe distance from others. Visits to cafes and pubs should be avoided to limit exposure to infection. You should carry tissues to use when cycling, disposing of them safely in a bin as soon as possible. If you do visit a food outlet, you must wash your hands before and after visiting, and again on returning home.

“It’s also advisable to wash your cycling gloves, too. Remember to avoid touching your face if your hands are not clean.”

You should also take as much food and water as possible for your ride, to help you avoid having to stop in a shop and make social contact.

For riders over the age of 70, Dr Hattersley said: “The latest advice is to self-isolate at home for the next 12 weeks to protect yourself from infection. Exercise is encouraged but at a safe distance from others. This would permit cycling, but again, avoid visits to pubs and cafes for refreshments. Tissue use and handwashing advice is as above.”

What about cyclists suffering coronavirus symptoms? Dr Hattersley said: “Do not go out as you are a risk to others. Consult the NHS 111 website for advice on self-management of your illness, but expect to be confined at home for at least seven days. Strenuous exercise is unwise while you are unwell. If you do not live alone, yourself and other members of your household must self-isolate for fourteen days from the time you first showed symptoms.”

Can I ride my bike outside?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday (March 23) that no-one is allowed to leave their house with a very small number of exceptions, one of which is cycling.

Mr Johnson said: “People will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes: shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible; one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household; any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

Government advice says people are encouraged to exercise but should keep a safe distance from others.

>>> The best turbo trainers for indoor cycling: smart and standard turbo trainers reviewed

Tighter restrictions on cycling (and all activity outside) could be down the line with numerous reports of people in London and in other parts of the country over the weekend of March 21/22 ignoring social distancing instructions from the government. This resulted in the National Trust closing its attractions as well as the outer London parks, including the cycling hotspot of Richmond Park, being closed to traffic. Richmond Park was later (on March 27) closed to cyclists due to overcrowding.

Another concern raised about riding outside include the risk of crashes and injury and the resulting increase in strain on the NHS, which is currently dealing with the spread of coronavirus.

In Spain, authorities have ordered everyone to stay indoors during the pandemic with those riding outside facing fines or even arrest, as police try to cut down on the demands on the emergency services caused by crashes.

A group of researchers has called on the government to enable people to walk and cycle outside for exercise during the Covid-19 outbreak, safe from the risk of infection and traffic injury.

The experts said the government should install emergency infrastructure to make cyclists safer and publish evidence-based guidance for people to reduce the risk when cycling during the pandemic.

Government action

The UK has now dramatically escalated efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus, as all non-essential shops now have to close, gatherings of more than two people in public are now banned and all social events are prohibited.

However, bike shops are exempt from the store closures.

The Premier League has cancelled all of its football fixtures for the time being, while the English cricket season has been delayed until at least May. Cycling events have been ruled out by the UCI until at least April 30.

On March 16, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the government was now recommending people avoid gatherings, should work from home if they can, and avoid all “non-essential” travel and contact with others. On March 20 the Prime Minister confirmed instructions that all pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes should close.

Those with serious health conditions should shield themselves from social contact for 12 weeks.

If one person in a household is suffering from a persistent cough or a fever, everyone living there must stay at home for 14 days.

They should also avoid leaving the house “even to buy food or essentials” but they can still leave the house for exercise if they maintain a safe distance from others.

British Cycling advice

On Tuesday, March 17 the national governing body British Cycling issued an update on it’s policy during the coronavirus outbreak, initially cancelling all its sanctioned cycling activities until April 30.

The body suspended all competitive events, non-competitive events like sportives, recreational rides including HSBC UK Breeze, and all educational courses.

On March 23, British Cycling confirmed it would extend suspension of activites until June 30, 2020.

In a statement, it said:

“With all Government guidance pointing towards a period during which the nation is being urged to come together to fight the spread of the virus, and the unprecedented burden currently on our emergency and public services, we felt that this is the most responsible – and only – course of action we could take at this moment.

“We are acutely aware of the impact that this situation has had on individuals, communities and businesses within cycling and beyond. We’d like to take this opportunity to reinforce that, while we share in the disappointment of those affected by this extended suspension, we will do absolutely everything within our power to ensure that cycling can return with strength and as soon as possible.

“This suspension period will include the dates originally set for several traditional milestones of the competitive cycling calendar. As with the vast majority of sports – while our primary focus will always be health and wellbeing – we will be exploring all options regarding the fulfilment of the racing calendar once sporting events can recommence.

“Our recommendation to our clubs remains that no organised activity (including rides, training, coaching, events) should take place during this period, in line with government advice on social gatherings and non-essential travel.”

Cycling Time Trials

Events sanctioned by Cycling Time Trials, the national TT governing body, have now been cancelled up until the end of May.

A statement from the organisation, released on Tuesday (March 17), said: “In light of the government advice now given, Cycling Time Trials (CTT) has taken the decision to suspend all CTT events, (this includes all Type A and Type B events), with immediate effect up to and including Sunday 31 May 2020.

“The decision will be subject to continued review and has been taken in the interests of organisers, competitors, all those who volunteer their time to make the events “work”, supporters and in the interests of the time trialling community as a whole.

“Where possible, all are encouraged to maintain their own personal fitness and keep active during this time, while following government guidelines about safe distance and safe exercise environments.

“CTT will continue to review and monitor government advice and will provide detailed updates in the coming weeks.”

Audax UK

Long-distance riders will also be affected by the spread of the virus, as the board of national body Audax UK has opted to suspend all calendar, permanent and DIY events with immediate affect until further notice.

A statement from Audax UK on Monday (March 16) said: “Following today’s updated guidance from the government, the Audax UK Board has taken the difficult decision to suspend recognition of all calendar, permanent and DIY events, with immediate effect, until further notice.

“This means that AUK will not validate any rides undertaken from midnight tonight, March 16, until the decision is taken to lift the suspension. Anyone undertaking such rides will not be allocated AUK points or AAA points, their rides will not be counted towards Mileater or Randonneur Round the Year awards, and they will not be covered by AUK’s insurance policy while riding.”

British teams

We’ve already seen plenty of WorldTour teams decide to suspend their racing schedules because of coronavirus, but some British teams are now following suit.

Ribble-Weldtite have announced the will not be riding from Monday (March 16) for an indefinite period so as to no contribute to the spread of the virus.

The team said: “During this extremely difficult time we will work remotely with our riders and partners to engage with our stakeholders and retain fitness and interview in few of the recommencement of the season, we hope at some point during 2020.”

Race cancellations

The peloton during the 2017 Tour of Hainan (Picture: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Coronavirus first hit the cycling world in late January when the Tour of Hainan was postponed because of the virus.

Organisers of the stage race, held on the Chinese island province just off the nation’s south coast, informed teams that the race will be delayed to a later date because of the spread of the new disease.

Then in early February, two Chinese team pulled out of the Tour de Langkawi while all other riders and staff faced screening for symptoms as part of the effort to contain the spread.

On February 21, the UCI then announced it would be postponing three upcoming Chinese races, the Tour of Chongming Island, the Tour of Zhoushan and the Women’s Tour of Taiyuan, which were scheduled for April and May.

The UAE Tour was abandoned with two stages remaining after two Italian staff members from an unnamed team tested positive for Covid-19.

All Riders including Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish, staff and media in the UAE were confined to their hotels and were all tested.

Most of the people on the race were allowed to leave by Sunday, March 1 but three teams – Groupama-FDJ, Cofidis, and Gazprom-RusVelo – were kept in quarantine in their hotel after six new cases of coronavirus were discovered. The UCI said they would be released by March 14 at the latest.

It was later revealed that Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) also stayed in UAE as he has the virus but is recovering well and has subseqeuntly returned home.

Dmitry Strakhov (Gazprom-RusVelo) also tested positive and has stayed in hospital but is also recovering.

Cancellation of Italian races

Milan – San Remo 2019 (Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images)

The arrival of Covid-19 caused immediate concerns about some of the biggest races on the calendar, as a total of 400 cases were reported by February 25.

Lombardy, the northern region around Milan, and Veneto were the worst-affected areas, which was bad news for the organisers of Milan-San Remo, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Giro d’Italia.

A huge amount of uncertainty followed in the week leading up to Strade Bianche, with teams concerned about the spread of coronavirus in Italy.

A number of teams announced they would not race the one-day event based around Siena, which resulted in race organiser RCS announcing the men’s and women’s 2020  Strade Bianche would be postponed. The women’s one-day race Trofeo Alfredo Binda was also postponed until June.

The following day, RCS then announced that Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo would be postponed along with the Giro di Sicilia and the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali.

The Giro d’Italia was the next race to be postponed, with other stage races the Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie and Tour de Yorkshire also called off. Paris-Nice was the last stage race to go ahead, but saw the final stage cancelled over the pandemic.

Cancellation of Belgian, French and Dutch races

Jasper Stuyven and Yves Lampaert on the Muur van Gerrardsbergen (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The Classics are an incredibly important time of year in cycling with the riders taking to the cobbles of Flanders, Wallonia, the Netherlands and France.

Until now, everything looked as if they were going ahead, but the second week of March marked the moment that saw a landslide of cancellations.

Nokere Koerse, Bredene Koksijde Classic, Driesdaagse De Panne, E3 BinckBank Classic, Ghent-Wevelgem and Dwars Doors Vlaanderen have all been cancelled due to the spread of the virus in Northern Europe.

Along with those Belgian races, the Ronde Van Drenthe in the Netherlands has also been cancelled.

Several smaller French stage races have also been postponed or cancelled, the likes of the Tour de Normandie and the Tour de Bretagne have been called off.

The Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Ardennes Classics were then all postponed on March 18 and March 19.

No dates of rescheduled events have been put forward as of yet.

The Tour de France is still set to go ahead in July with no comment yet from organiser ASO on the status of the race.

The Olympics

The Olympic Games were postponed on March 24 in a joint decision by the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee.

Japan has over 1,500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 (as of March 29), however the major concern in holding the Olympics in its original July/August slot would be the influx of thousands of people from around the world. Competing athletes are also struggling to properly train with lockdowns across many countries in the world.

The Games, which will still be called Tokyo 2020, will take place between July 23 and August 8, 2021.

This poses a problem for cycling as it crosses over with the final weekend of the Tour de France 2021, which finishes on July 25. The means many riders aiming to win gold will need to decide between competing at the Tour or the Olympics or potentially pulling out of the Tour early.

UCI response

The on-going impacts of coronavirus on professional cycling prompted a response from the international governing body, the UCI.

After initially stopping events until April 3, a flurry of race cancellations meant cycling’s governing body eventually took the decision to stop events until April 30.

In a statement, the UCI President David Lappartient said: “The international situation linked to the coronavirus has accelerated sharply recently, especially in Europe, which has pushed the authorities to take drastic measures that have a major impact on our sport in particular.

“Faced with this unprecedented and changing situation, we must adapt and take necessary measures to guarantee, as far as possible, the security of people at our events as well as sporting equity. With the strong decisions taken concerning the UCI International Calendar and the Olympic qualification procedure, we are providing the awaited answers for people in our sport.

“The challenges we face in light of the current situation require all members of the cycling family and of the Olympic movement to be innovative, strong and united.”