European overview of unconfined riders

Many professional riders who have been through a complete lockdown have been able, or will be able, to return to their training roads at the beginning of this month. For the Frenchmen, this will be possible from Monday, May 11th after two – long – months riding indoors. In this period of time, others have taken advantage of more flexible rules in their own countries to continue training outdoors. Within the Groupama-FDJ cycling team, this particularly concerned the Swiss colony and Ramon Sinkeldam, but also Tobias Ludvigsson, Ignatas Konovalovas and Kevin Geniets, who gave us a glimpse of their “new” and provisional life prior to the general comeback on the road.

In Lithuania, as in Luxembourg and Sweden, cycling outdoors has never been called into question by the Covid-19 pandemic in recent weeks. However, just back from his extended stay in the United Arab Emirates, Ignatas Konovalovas could not immediately benefit from this more flexible regulation. After a ten-day lockdown in an Abu Dhabi hotel room, he had to respect an additional fifteen days of quarantine, at home, with his wife and little boy who just flew back from Spain. “A lockdown was required when you returned from abroad,” he explains. “Furthermore, knowing that we experienced some symptoms together with my wife, we were asked to stay at home as a precaution. So actually, I started this period like my French colleagues and I can therefore understand them. I lived this situation of confinement, with my wife and the little one who did not understand why we could not go out. I also rode indoors, even if I was not worried as I knew it would only last two weeks”. Kevin Geniets also spent a fortnight lock downed, and the reason is quite simple: he usually lives in France. “It was a bit complicated and I had the opportunity to return to Luxembourg, so that’s what I did,” said the young man. “There’s also a lockdown here, but we don’t need a permit to go out. The life is basically like the one in France, except that I was allowed to ride my bike. Which certainly changed my life.”

“It’s hard to find the motivation to go out,” Ignatas Konovalovas

In his native Sweden, Tobias Ludvigsson hasn’t, in any way, experienced the lockdown. “Our country took a slightly different approach from the others,” he says. “Schools are closed but people still go to work, the restaurants are open, with gatherings limited to 50 people”. To sum up, few changes overall, and almost none regarding his cycling practice. “Many people take advantage of this period to do sports because we are allowed to go outside. I don’t even have to go cycling alone. We could ride in small groups without any problem, but I personally didn’t feel like it”, he adds. As for the company, Ignatas and Kevin pretty much gave up on it. “We had the right to do sports outdoors but just individually”, said the Luxembourger. “Over here, it’s not as strict as in France”, notes the Lithuanian. “We are allowed to go out, but we can be with only one person, when it’s not family”. None of the three, on the other hand, have been exposed to perimeter restrictions, such as the one that will apply to the French riders in a few days (100 km, editor’s note). “I could have done the Tour of Lithuania if I wanted to”, Konojokes.

The freedom of movement in effect in his country would have made it possible indeed, but that was certainly not the priority of the Baltic rider at the end of his quarantine. “In this period, when we have no idea about the racing resumption, it’s hard to find the motivation to go out, to tell yourself you are going to do that many kilometers and some special efforts”, Ignatas says. This lack of short- and medium-term goals also kind of affected Tobias, who confesses he “sometimes felt a bit down mentally”, as well as Kevin, who was very much looking forward to his first Flemish Classics: “I had been thinking about it for months, so it was a bit difficult at the very beginning to step back and distance myself from everything that was going on, but I got there eventually. Today, I feel comfortable in the current situation”. In the perspective of getting back on their feet, clearing their head and recovering a good spirit, they all chose the same option. The one also recommended by the team and coaches, namely: riding just for fun and pleasure.

“The idea was more to stay fit than to actually train”, Kevin Geniets

“I like to train to feel good and healthy anyway,” says our Swedish time trialist. “It’s also somehow nice to just go out training without a goal or purpose, and just do as much as I want. On top of that, the weather has been good as well. I also took the opportunity to do a bit of mountain bike. That’s how I started cycling and it was nice to get back to it. It’s nice to be out in the forest, to enjoy nature, to work on other things such as the technique and to do something different than usual”. In order to “clear his head”, Konovalovas took the gravel bike back out. “Riding in Lithuania is annoying, it’s very windy, it’s flat, it’s long, there aren’t many corners and small villages,” he says. “On the other hand, once you go on the country lanes, in the woods and in the fields, it is gorgeous, you enjoy the ride more”. Having travelled with his road bike only, Geniets settled for the asphalt but he also put a real emphasis on his well-being. “There is no pressure at the moment, and that makes a real difference”, he says. “We’re going to train with a free mind without thinking “I have to do this”. It’s a whole different state of mind and I’ve taken full advantage of it. I did some pretty nice rides in the nature and I really enjoyed this way of doing cycling”. In this pretty special time, the coaches also granted a welcome flexibility to their protégés.

“When we spoke at the very beginning, my coach Anthony Bouillod agreed to give me a bit of freedom”, recalls Kono. “I explained my state of mind to him, that I wanted to ride according to my feelings and my willingness. It’s a bit like during the winter break when I ask for 2-3 weeks without a program to get the machine going again. The only difference is that it’s a little longer now”. However, it doesn’t mean that the 34-year-old Lithuanian hasn’t done anything. He even happened to do 30 hours of cycling a week, while strengthening his back with core exercises. “Until now, the goal was just to stay in shape, not to be in great shape,” he perfectly sums up. Coached by Julien Pinot, Tobias Ludvigsson and Kevin Geniets were also able to spin the legs without looking too much at the power meter. “I had a little guideline from Julien and I followed that pretty well”, confirms the Scandinavian. “I didn’t do too much or too less, I just kept riding to be healthy, averaging 24 hours a week. I didn’t do too long rides like some other guys did. Some have been training like crazy; a Norwegian did 1000 kilometers in one time and I don’t really understand it. My longest ride was about 6 hours but it was only once. Now I’m doing 4 hours max”. “I didn’t do too much volume and intensity, but I just kept myself in shape and I worked on strength,” said the rider from the grand duchy. “The idea was more to stay fit than to actually train. With Julien, we still looked at what we could improve during lockdown and we decided to focus on strength. I worked on it on the bike and with core exercises, but I really didn’t want to overdo. We had a good talk with Julien and we decided to take it easy.”

“For confined riders, the return on the road must feel like Christmas”, Tobias Ludvigsson

Despite being in the open air, none of these lockdown-free riders has been advised or willing to improve, build up or work beyond reason in the past two months. The priority was ultimately the same as for their colleagues riding indoors: “Not to unnecessarily waste psychological freshness”, underlines Konovalovas. The potential lead they got on confined riders therefore seems quite relative. “I think this is more of a mental advantage than a physical one,” continues the Lithuanian. “Psychologically, the past month and a half has been easier for me, but physically, I don’t think I will take advantage of that in August. Basically, they haven’t lost their shape either. You certainly ride less indoors, but it’s more intensive and it’s good enough to stay fit. There are three months left before the first races and everybody will soon be out. In 2-3 weeks, we will all be on an equal footing”. Kevin Geniets is not worried for his teammates either: “We will have a bit of an advantage in the first days, but in the long term, it does not change anything. The first races are still far away, there is still time to work. There is possibly a risk for those who have been riding too much on the rollers. They may explode. But for those who have done this normally, they will be as fit as I will be when the races resume.”

“I believe three months is plenty of time to be back in shape with a good build-up also,” says Tobias Ludvigsson. “I made the most of my freedom to train outside but it will not benefit me in the end. Personally, I have no idea on how I would be affected if I would be in total lockdown like most of my teammates. I have to say I’m impressed to see how they handle it and stay with their head up. They must feel like next week will be like Christmas as they will be allowed to get back on the road”. Geniets is pretty sure of it after having temporarily experienced the situation himself: “After my two weeks on the rollers in France, not being able to go out, I think I realized more than others how lucky I was to be outside again. It had a great worth for me”. One can then easily imagine what will be the feeling for those getting out after two months of privation. This return to the open air for Latin riders, in particular, coincides with the release of the UCI WorldTour revised calendar, announcing the competition resumption for early August with the Strade Bianche, Milan-Sanremo as well as the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour of Poland. Although this remains hypothetical, and that it must obviously be treated cautiously, it nevertheless triggers a psychological, soon physical, remobilization for high-level athletes missing challenges.

“If I had to get going again the day after tomorrow, I’m not ready for it”, Ignatas Konovalovas

“At the beginning, when you go out training to have fun, you do have fun. But after a few weeks, it becomes quite difficult to go out just for that purpose, because you start telling yourself that it may be time to get going again, to train properly, even if you know it is not the right time yet”, Ignatas analyses. “But as we speak, I feel that this day is getting closer, that I will soon need to ask Anthony for a more serious program”. “Now that we have a calendar, it’s easier to motivate yourself to go out riding more,” confirms Tobias. “Mentally, I feel ready and I can’t wait to be back on serious and specific trainings. Julien actually updated my program for the next two weeks and it includes more specific work, intensive efforts and everything. However, it’s still a long way to go until August and there is no need to get stressed”. Quite cautious about the late announcements, Geniets would rather keep focused on what he has to do than wondering around. “I think that in the coming weeks, it will mainly be about rebuilding the basics, getting back into our habits and doing a good endurance workload,” he adds. “In a few weeks we’ll talk about specific trainings, but before that, there’s still some time”. And ‘Kono’ gets the last word: “If I was told that I had to get going again the day after tomorrow and be non-stop from then (hear ‘’bam, bam bam’’), I’m not ready for it. On the other hand, if I am told that we will resume in 10-15 days, in stages, then I will be ready mentally. But it’s not for tomorrow. For now, as we say in Lithuania, we must still hold the horse by the reins”.