‘Team bubbles’ at races: UCI publishes protocol for return to competition

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The UCI has unveiled its protocol for procedures it will either require or recommend upon the resumption of racing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those procedures is the required implementation of “team bubbles,” comprising riders and personnel from within a team who will be screened for COVID-19 prior to racing and will then observe social distancing from those outside the bubble before and after competition. Those team bubbles will make up what the UCI is calling a “peloton bubble,” which would theoretically maintain social distancing from those outside the peloton throughout the race, assuming all of the constituent team bubbles observe the rules.

“This protocol of instructions and recommendations is fundamental, especially for the teams and organizers, with a view to the resumption of cycling races,” said UCI president David Lappartient in a statement.

“These measures remain dependent on the laws and measures in the different host countries and may need to be adapted but this protocol is another step towards our sport’s return to life.”

The UCI said that its framework for returning to competition is a product of collaboration within a steering group comprising UCI medical director Xavier Bigard and representatives of riders, teams, doctors, and organizers, and it applies to both men’s and women’s road racing. The protocol is based in “three general principles”: the use of the “team bubble approach,” a classification of risk levels based on WHO definitions, and the establishment of measures categorized as either “mandatory, recommended or desired.”

A handful of procedures have been deemed mandatory under all circumstances: the appointment of a “a COVID Coordinator and a COVID Doctor” to manage protocol at a given race, pre- and in-competition screening of riders by teams, the implementation of “risk zones” (the registration area, the feed zone, etc.), and observance of the bubble approach at hotels and when traveling.

The protocol also includes a procedure for suspected COVID-19 cases, albeit without much clarity on what impact that occurrence might have on the status of the race. In the event of a suspected case, the UCI’s protocol calls for the team doctor to contact the organizer’s designated COVID Doctor, who “will direct the patient to the nearest COVID Centre or specialized service.”

Beyond that, national guidelines for the management of cases will be followed; whether the observance of the protocol would lead to calling off a race entirely in the event of a COVID-19 case is unclear.

The UCI emphasized in its statement that its protocol is “dependent” on the laws of host locations, focused on reducing risks linked to COVID-19, mainly concerned with race personnel (as opposed to spectators), and that it “will be updated according to the development of the world health situation and the evolution of the state of scientific know-how.”

With its protocol for road racing now officially unveiled, the governing body also plans to announce protocols for the other cycling disciplines it oversees next.

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