'No one has ever lived through a season like this': How pro riders are dealing with lockdown

How are pro riders across Europe – including the worst-affected countries – coping with the stresses of lockdown while keeping healthy, fit and motivated? CW finds out - Words: Maria David & Rebecca Charlton

Cesare Benedetti, Giulio Ciccone and Elia Viviani (Getty)

Giulio Ciccone - Trek-Segafredo

'I'm helping raise funds to buy hospital ventilators'

Giulio Ciccone (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

On returning to his Monaco home after the truncated UAE Tour, the Italian had to face up to the reality that his upcoming spring races were all cancelled.

Our quarantine in Abu Dhabi was brief, but things were tough because I had finished a long training block in preparation for great races like Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan - San Remo, and races leading up to the Giro d'Italia. Just as we were getting to a key part of the season, we had to stop. People's health is more important, so a lockdown was the right decision.

At the moment, I usually start training before breakfast. I do an hour of easy pedalling on the rollers, then after breakfast I do an hour of gym exercises including core stability training. In the afternoon, I do 1.5 - 2 hours on the rollers, working on intensity or strength training.

Staying motivated is the hardest thing. We don't know when we will restart racing. Using Zwift helps the time pass. When I am having an easy week, I do a few virtual races on Zwift, registering and participating alongside fans and amateur cyclists. This type of competition helps to motivate riders.

I have also started an appeal to raise funds to buy ventilators for the hospital in Chieti, Italy, where I was born. The hospital needs funds to buy more ventilators, so we need to raise around €10,000. It gives me another motivation and I will be offering one of my yellow jerseys or an item of team kit to the highest donor.

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My advice to amateur racers is to not take risks cycling outdoors at this time. All it takes is for a silly little thing to happen and you could end up in a hospital - already at capacity. If pros aren't going out cycling, then the same should apply to amateurs.

Elisa Longo Borghini - Trek-Segafredo

After a shaky opening season, with flu ruling her out of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Longo Borghini was about to start her spring racing when Covid-19 arrived. Being based just outside Lombardy, her outdoor training has been completely curtailed

Elisa Longo Borghini (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

I wasn't shocked to hear about the quarantine, as it's the only thing that you can do to stop the spread of the virus. The police asked us to take part in an advertising campaign telling people to stay at home. We all have to respect the rules.

At first, I had some easy days on the rollers, just to lose a bit of form - I had been really in shape for the Spring Classics. So now it's like starting winter training again. I am very lucky; I have space in my house to do gym work and the rollers. Using Zwift helps, as the time passes faster than with just music. I also do exercises with my body weight and kettlebells, working on my core, mobility, stability and power exercises. Like in winter, strength and the power trianing is mainly what I'm doing right now.

I just have to believe things will come good. I need to do what my trainer says and what my country says, to protect the weakest. My motivation to train is knowing that, once I am able to wear an Italian jersey, I will wear it with pride, give emotion to the race and show that Italy is strong.

My tip for training in quarantine is to have a schedule in mind every day. You need to keep your body and mind strong. You can't waste your time on the sofa eating chips.

Elia Viviani - Cofidis

‘Start each day with a clear plan’

Elia Viviani (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

After taking part in Paris-Nice, the last professional cycle race before the lockdown, Viviani was able to ride for a few days in Monaco, before returning home to Udine, Italy

When I heard the situation could take a long time to resolve, I took one week’s rest and didn’t touch the bike. Mentally it was going to be difficult, so I really wanted to take the time to give energy to my body and mind.

[With girlfriend, Canyon-SRAM’s Elena Cecchini] we have started to do proper preparation, but not at a high level. It doesn’t make sense to kill yourself with indoor training.

We have a gym in our garage with rollers and the turbo where I can do high-intensity work. I can also do two or three hours on Zwift, simulating roads and climbs. The iPad, TV and music make it easier to do that kind of effort. Training all the time in the house is boring, so I ride the rollers in two 1.5-hour sessions. We also have a fit ball and weights to do squats, as well as boxes for step-ups. We do free body exercises on abdominals and dorsals. Normally we’d do all this in the winter, but this stoppage is like a winter break except our fitness is at a higher level. In the afternoon, I spend more time stretching and doing self-massage with compression aids.

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My tip is not to eat too much – one point where athletes need to be careful. Also, in the morning when you wake up, it is best to have a plan of what you want to do, or else things will get worse and worse, day by day.

Attilio Viviani - Cofidis

‘No one has ever lived through a season like this’

Attilio Viviani (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

After spending 10 days quarantined in an Abu Dhabi hotel following the suspension of the UAE Tour, the Cofidis rider returned to his home in Verona, Italy, only to be back in quarantine a week later.

During the first few days of the quarantine in Abu Dhabi, we couldn’t do anything because we didn’t have bikes or anything. It was tough because we saw other teams able to leave, yet our team still had to stay despite testing negative on three occasions. So we were held on the fourth floor for 10 days. Nathan [Haas] thinks of everything! He had the idea to do a few videos of us doing silly activities on how to stay fit. It helped pass the time and gave us a few laughs.

Our bikes and turbo trainers were brought up to our rooms after three or four days and we were given a free Zwift account and a tablet. So we did two hours a day, which helped to keep form and to pass the time.

We thought things would improve when we got home, but instead after two days the advice was to stay at home, though as professional riders we were permitted to cycle outdoors. Then, after four or five days we went into complete quarantine. It was definitely better to be at home with my family than being in a hotel, though.

At home I continue to use the Zwift account, and I have a gym area where I can do leg press and leg extension exercises. To stay motivated, I speak to our Italian DS Roberto Damiani every couple of days. He is in a much worse area, so we check in on each other. [Older brother] Elia is also important to me, and I speak to him every few days.

This is my first season as a pro so it is strange for me, but also for guys aged 35 as well – no one has ever lived through a season like this.

My advice to amateur racers is to stay at home. Many athletes around the world are doing so. You may lose out on some training, but what is important is that everyone remains healthy and we can resolve the problem quickly.

Alejandro Valverde - Movistar

‘Be patient, ride the rollers’

Alejandro Valverde (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The 2018 world road race champion from Murcia, Spain, had been targeting the Olympic Games. After spending four days in quarantine in Abu Dhabi, he returned home

I normally ride 100km per day, but given the current situation I am now doing two 1.5-hour sessions on the rollers each day. During these sessions, I include either intense efforts or long repetitions where I fit in more kilometres. Quarantine is not great, but at least I am with my children and I can train indoors. It is not as bad as when we received the sudden news about quarantine in Abu Dhabi.

On the rollers, I like to keep in touch with cycling fans through social media, as this plays a big part in staying motivated and getting through this period. My advice to amateurs and professionals is to be patient during this time and just keep a regular schedule of riding the rollers.

Teniel Campbell - Valcar-Travel & Service

‘Don’t stress the stuff you can’t control’

Teniel Campbell (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Being the first rider to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics road race was a great moment for the Italy-based Trinidadian. In her first year as a professional, and living near Bergamo, this has been a testing time

Initially, professional riders could train on the roads, and my coach told me I must always cycle in the company of another rider, which was safer because some drivers got angry at us when they saw us on the roads and would honk their horns a lot more.

But now, under the complete quarantine, the only time I go outdoors is to the supermarket or to take out the garbage.

It has become a mental challenge. I am alone in the house and I am also now training alone indoors. However, I have the necessary support both in Trinidad and Tobago and from my team here in Italy.

I have realised I do not know how not to be an athlete. For two years, I have been a full-time elite athlete 24 hours a day – training, stressing my body, coming home tired, eating, sleeping, doing a bit of socialising on social media. Now there is more free time, I must find a way to make the most of my time and be productive.

My drive began decreasing, and I guess that was me processing everything that was happening.

I am sure it will return stronger than before. The best cure is to limit my thoughts. Thinking does not do me any favours, it creates bigger problems.

I talk to [team staff] on a daily basis, especially my coach Davide Arzeni, who is supportive and showing a lot of concern for my happiness. My family in Trinidad and Tobago are quite concerned, but my calmness towards the situation reassures them.

My advice to racers is to try not to waste energy thinking about the things you cannot control. Everyone is in the same boat, but dealing with the circumstances at different stress levels. Live in the moment, try to adapt to the new lifestyle and take it day by day. It is not easy, but this too shall pass. And don’t stock your house with cookies and chocolate – the chances are you will finish them all in a day!

Sam Brand - Team Novo Nordisk

‘Diabetics and cyclists support each other online’

Sam Brand (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Currently at home on the Isle of Man, Sam Brand is keeping a close eye on official guidelines while training remotely from his Novo Nordisk team-mates, all of whom are diabetic

In early March, I had just come off almost five weeks on the road at the Tour of Colombia and Tour of Rwanda. I was scheduled to be home in March, and while the virus had reached Italy, I felt sheltered in the racing scene from what was happening back in Europe.

If it comes to indoor-only training, I have a pretty cool setup with my Wahoo Kickr. Beyond that, there is an incredible online riding community within both worlds, cycling and diabetes. At present, I tend to do most of my training solo.

Right now, we need to be more socially responsible than ever. As things are changing so quickly, it’s a case of taking each day as it comes. Not just the diabetes community, but all of us as a global family need to be ready and prepared. A lot of my team-mates are based in Europe, but we’re spread globally, the team being American. I have team-mates in Italy, Spain and France with stringent measures in place; some are unable to ride outside. We are keeping each other entertained through social media and team chats. We are a very close team and this has brought us even closer together.

I keep being asked, “When will you be racing again?” and “What are your plans?” In all honesty, I have no idea. I’m trying to take it day by day and enjoy some time at home – control the controllables. This is the longest I’ve spent at home for a long while, and I see that as a privilege. I’m making the most of the enforced postponements and being prepared to be ready as and when we can resume.

We need to be positive in situations of uncertainty. Stick together, support and help each other. There is a huge cycling community out there to ride with online. Zwift enables global access to continue training – it’s a great tool to keep motivated with like-minded cyclists. If you see me on there, feel free to say hello! My way to look at motivation, something I was taught by a friend, is: “Motivation comes and goes but commitment to a cause is always there.”

Cesare Benedetti - Bora Hansgrohe

‘I’m thinking about the nurses, doctors, factory workers’

Cesare Benedetti (Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Making it back to his family just before the borders closed, Italian Cesare Benedetti is now training in Poland. He suggests getting creative with home workouts to keep morale high

I was in Italy for Strade Bianche and we had just started the recon [when the race was cancelled]. I went there, slept one night and went back home to Trentino [northern Italy]. My wife and daughter were in Poland and we were supposed to meet after Tirreno Adriatico, but their flights were cancelled. I had to drive to Poland – the next day they closed the border, so I was very lucky.

It’s a bit strange to go for a long ride without knowing when you’re going to race next, but it’s still my job and we need to do it for the sponsors, for our passion, our brain – to keep a good mood and be ready for the moment when everything settles down. I’m not very optimistic at the moment – the UCI say we’re not going to race until the end of April, but I doubt we’ll be able to race in May.

I always used to train alone, so that helps a bit – I’m not suffering from solitude. We are lucky. Some people have had to go to factories [to work] and be really close to other people, risking infection and infecting others. I’m thinking about nurses and doctors who are working at the moment – they’re risking so much. We cannot complain. Everyone’s got some trouble in this situation, but we have to find the positives.

In Italy at the moment, people cannot go out on bikes at all.

Professional riders are allowed to train, but I’ve heard they’re having so many problems that the Italian federation has now suggested they stop completely and just train on the turbo at home. They need to do this also to set a good example to amateur riders.

At the moment, there’s no space in the hospitals, so if you were to have a bad crash, that would add to the problems. I can still go out for training at the moment, but the only other time I go out is to get essential groceries once a week. It’s the best way to fight this virus.

If you live in a block of flats, use the stairs to do a strength-and-conditioning session. I wouldn’t kill myself on the turbo. We’ve got many options now like Zwift to keep it interesting. Take the time to feel good, to feel relaxed, and work on your strength. Do some core training – for example, three times 15 squat jumps. Get creative.

Elinor Barker - GB Cycling Team

‘Postpone the Olympics? That never happens!’

Elinor Barker (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Points race world champion Elinor Barker spoke to CW shortly after receiving confirmation that the Tokyo Olympic Games will be postponed until next year

Every day something changes. It’s kind of baffling. About two weeks ago, I came back from the Worlds and had a media day where practically every question was about coronavirus.

I was just not ready for it at all because it had barely even entered my world. And now it’s completely changed everything.

I was asked, “Do you think the Olympics will be postponed or cancelled?” and my reaction was, “What? That never happens.”

Since then, I’ve thought about it almost constantly – all the ifs and buts. So I had some time to digest it before the announcement was made. There’s some amount of relief that a decision has been reached.

From a purely selfish point of view, I almost would have liked to have waited for a few [more] weeks to see if there was any way it could go ahead without it being a health risk, so as to keep some motivation through this lockdown period.

I can train from home; we’re very lucky that we can stick a bike on a turbo and carry on.

British Cycling has divided up all portable parts of the gym, so we’ve all got some home gym kit. Obviously, other sports are not so lucky.

I don’t disagree with the [Olympics] decision at all. There’s no one to be mad at, there’s no bad decision being made here; I just feel a bit of sadness and disappointment. [Being postponed for] a year gives everyone time to sort things out, reassess and come up with a whole new plan because it has changed in relation to other events on the calendar.

The weirdest thing is, it’s going to be about a year before the next major track race, as far as I can tell. I’ve not thought about changing my training programme; [ordinarily] I might plan a holiday, but that’s obviously not going to happen right now!

We have had a lot of injuries in the team, most prominently with Laura [Kenny], so perhaps this will give us time to get together as a team again, get some more luck on our side and have a year to build on everything.

Uncertainty can be hard, so try not to think about it too much – try to do nice things, help people in the community if you can; do something that makes you feel good and a little bit more positive.

Claire Floret - Donnons des Elles au Vélo

‘Keep moving, keep talking’

Floriane Burgy and Claire Floret (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images for Skoda)
(Image credit: Getty Images for Skoda)

For the last six years, the club rider from Essonne, southern Paris, has coordinated and ridden the Donnons des Elles au Tour J-1, an international group of women who ride all stages of the Tour de France one day ahead of the pros

Previously, I was doing two sessions of cross-fit and 150km of cycling per week. When the quarantine began, my objectives became uncertain and it was difficult to stay motivated.

My routine is to do a 10-minute core stability session before breakfast. As I can’t get in long miles on the road, my main sessions are now based on quality rather than quantity. So I do three sessions per week of cross-fit and sessions on the turbo trainer, based on a training programme by Guy Thibault, a coach whose sessions are based around endurance, threshold and sprints. Then I use a kettlebell, a box for step-ups and bodyweight exercises, plus online yoga.

When I go out to buy my baguette, I walk for about an hour. I also try to do something new every day, whether it’s mowing the lawn, picking dandelions to make a salad, learning to make puff pastry or cassoulet.

My advice would be to avoid being sedentary – do something active every day, just to stay healthy. It is important to maintain social interaction.

This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.

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