“Maybe we’ll lose a major part of what cycling should be in the years to come”
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the world of sport is enormous. Cycling, as part of this sporting phenomenon, an event with a great international vocation and a markedly itinerant character, is no exception and within the world of two wheels there is also no category or level that has escaped unscathed from the spiral of suspensions, postponements and even cuts.
With the de-escalation measures promoted by the authorities of various countries, there are also some green shoots about the real, feasible possibility that some competitions can be held. Especially, by an eminently national scope, the category U23. A talk with the director of the Kometa-Xstra Cycling Team U23 Rafa Díaz Justo (Gerindote, Toledo; 1972) in this respect.
These last days this possibility has appeared in several media. Good news, no doubt; but really only viable at the moment for Basque sports structures. From the prism of the U23 team, since we are a small staff, it could be saved somehow the season, without losing of focus the exceptional thing of this situation, if it is possible to return in August and it is possible to have a calendar that extends also on September and October. In July? If that were the case I would pinch myself, I would find it hard to believe, but I hope it can be so.
What would be the ideal horizon of competitions, in view of the mimbres that are currently presented…
A calendar where the entire Spanish Cup (Copa de España) was made and, even knowing that many races would be lost by stages, two or three stage races. A context where we could feel realized sportively and where we could give presence to the sponsors, who in the end are the big harmed of all this situation.
You commented that this return by the end of June, being good news, poses some problem, some objection?
For Basque teams it is completely feasible without the accompanying health data, as it seems. It is not so much for the foreign teams, from other regions. First, because of the handicap of travelling to the Basque Country in the sense that we still do not know how we will be by then. In the case of our team, for example, the headquarters are in the Community of Madrid and our vehicles and staff leave from there. Let’s see how mobility is. And then, much more importantly, for the last couple of years a series of regulations have been applied in which Basque projects and teams are given priority, all of which have a maximum of 200 riders. Not even the organisers themselves can confirm the number of participants in advance; if you go, you do so knowingly or with the warning that there is a real possibility that you may not run a race you are going to. When this news came out, I called the hotel where we usually stay when we compete in the Basque Country and they told us, to my joy, that it was possible to book today. For us, I still see it as a bit premature, though.
What is the feedback that the organizers of cycling competitions are giving at the moment in relation to the next months?
The situation is complicated. Many competitions and many teams are supported to a greater or lesser extent by public money. And in the current context this is a problem, as this money can now be very important for other priorities. That is a reality. We will see if when the whole situation, at a social level, becomes normal, we will see if the most negative forecasts are not fulfilled and we really do not return to a complicated situation. At a media level, what is coming, what is being transmitted, is a little scary, a little respectful. At the level of competitions, the feeling is that there are still many things in the air. Waiting for the events. It’s not so much a question of dates, it’s a question, above all, of economics.
In the national calendar on which we have been working, the not celebrated events of the Spanish Cup in the elite category were included and a couple of stage tours have also outlined their celebration as long as the situation allows it .
The Vuelta a la Provincia de Valencia or the Volta a Galicia, both in September, have confirmed that they will be held if there is no force majeure. And these, together with the French Ronde de l’Isard, recently moved to September and also in our calendar, and the Spanish Cup, are the races officially announced today. There is also the Vuelta a Salamanca, although with the option of coinciding with one of the new dates of the Copa de España, the Memorial Momparler, and this already poses problems. It is possible, and this is a personal opinion, that there are organizers who are seriously considering not going out in 2020 in any way and make sure they can do it in 2021 with all the guarantees.
There is a lot of talk about the consequences that the coronavirus will have on professional cycling, but how do you see the future of amateur cycling?
To the health damages caused by the virus itself, we are going to add those generated in the economic field. This is worrying. If the races disappear and the teams do, the scenario is worrying. Perhaps we will lose an important part of what cycling should be in the coming years. I am aware that it is a very tremendous thought, very extreme, but it is also good to do it, it is good to keep in mind that it is a possibility that is there. Eighty percent of sports projects are sustained with the support of councils, institutions, autonomous communities… And in that sense a difficult time is coming.
Both the coach Carlos Barredo and you are concerned about the incidence of such a long time of inactivity ‘with dorsal’…
We are very concerned about the sporting journey of the cyclists. We are talking about the evolution of riders in a growth phase in which there is no competition, only work; it is dangerous. These are years in which they grow a lot sportily. Somehow this growth is being captured. Obviously it is due to a supervening situation, of public health, nothing objectionable about that. The amateur field, especially the category U23, is a world where the technical stops in the growth of the sportsmen are very complicated. It can affect. And they can do it a lot. An athlete of a long-distance activity like ours, training in a closed place, in static, everything becomes hard. It’s an extreme situation on a mental level. I think that after this we will see some cases in some cyclists, from an ante and an after, some bad psychological phase. When they ride again and I don’t have the best feeling and all that stuff. Managing this is complex. And redirecting a situation of great adversity is something that is within the reach of very few. We have an example in the team: when Arturo Grávalos had his accident last summer, there was a moment when we thought he would never be able to race again. The injury was very important, the damage was great and he spent half a year without doing sport, with what that entails on a physical or psychological level. Arturo has done it and in a short time he has been completely competitive again. But without racing, it’s difficult.
And how can this lack be solved?
Carlos and I thought that if there were no competitions at all, we’d have to look for a replica of the competition on a working level in training so as not to lose that focus.
Within the Kometa-Xstra U23 there have been regular meetings between the riders and the technical staff through the new information technologies. First, in a more individual way. Then, more in groups. How about the boys?
With their more and with their less, because we all have always our personal things, the situation inside the team has been very good. All the kids are doing well. We’re still in fluid contact, but now it’s more collective. They feel more comfortable, everything is more informal, more relaxed. One-on-one might seem like a test to them, and it doesn’t have to be that way. With all this time we’ve been confined, testing is becoming more than acceptable. From last week to this week, little by little, little news is emerging that for the kids are wonderful. To be able to go out and shoot in their municipality, within their province… And from there on, many news have been appearing in a row that invite a certain optimism.
Does the evolution of the pandemic and the evolution of its consequences also open up new scenarios for the future in terms of project design?
We have always been a project that has bet a lot on the youth, with that limit under 23. It is a special situation, especially for high quality riders. It would be a crime not to support them in these complex times. The idea that the direction of the project transmits to us, the idea in which one works facing the future, is that of this crisis it is necessary to leave well positioned. And with this, to reinforce the project, to work so that the staff in 2021 can be more extensive, to promote this project. Age will not be a determining factor when making decisions, as it has been until now, because of a question of exceptionality. Sporting criteria will obviously continue to be a factor.
(automatic translation, sorry for mistakes)