The hot topic of the moment in the pro peloton and the world is of course coronavirus (COVID-19). There is a lot of uncertainty around the cycling season right now, as the World Health Organization have named the situation a global pandemic. Countries are taking varying approaches to protect public health, from quarantines to travel bans to slow the spread of this disease.
Pro cycling requires constant travel by an international peloton, and events bring together large groups of people, posing a high risk for transmission between participants, and more importantly, a risk to local host communities. The risk of overwhelming health care systems in these communities is not worth hosting a bike race.
There is a big question mark around the fate of the rest of the season. Will the world’s biggest races still take place? What does it mean if the Olympics are cancelled? I find it helpful to come back to some key concepts we learn as athletes to process these kinds of questions when thinking of the future of the season.
As athletes, we learn to focus on the things we can control in the face of uncertainty. We set goals, and meticulously plan how to achieve them with the help of our coaches and teams. In a race, there are so many things we cannot control, like the conditions and what our competition will do. Instead it makes sense to focus on the controllable factors such as our training, nutrition, race tactics, and how we respond to the world.
In the case of COVID-19, the decisions around events and the ability to travel globally are ultimately in the hands of Public Health Officials and World Leaders. However, we have control and the responsibility to protect our own health and those around us.
As athletes, we are already hyper aware and educated about the risks of illness in travel and in general life, so we can use this opportunity to educate those around us with advice for staying well and preventing transmission. Practising good hand hygiene is the number one most effective strategy being recommended by experts in the case of COVID-19. The concept of “social distancing” is also being communicated as an effective public health strategy for slowing the spread of communicable disease. Limiting interactions between people that would normally take place at events, public places, work and schools will hopefully slow the spread, and reduce the strain on health care systems. It is powerful to think that giving up simple daily privileges, like hosting a birthday party, attending a concert, or competing in a bike race, could actually save lives. We all have individual power to contribute to better societal outcomes by accepting temporary disruptions to our daily routines.
We also learn to stay adaptable as athletes and to look for opportunities when the world throws obstacles our way. Illness, injury, broken equipment, and travel disruptions are just a few possible obstacles that can derail a season. These disruptions introduce uncertainty into meticulous performance plans that might span years in the making. If races continue to be cancelled, then we need to think where the opportunities are. Is this a unique training opportunity? A chance for more time with family instead of being on the road? Maybe there are opportunities to give back and help your local community in this difficult time?
The last concept we learn as athletes is to embrace the process. It is so easy to get tunnel vision, and be too future focused when working towards big goals. Embracing the process of getting there means you can appreciate the growth and experiences along the way. If the Olympics are cancelled, it might have athletes questioning their career choices, asking if the journey was worth it if the end goal is no longer possible. Personally, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I have had in sport for any other path. Personal growth, friendships, and travel experiences are just a few valuable things I have gained in the span of my cycling career regardless if I get the privilege to compete for glory in the biggest global events.
At the end of the day, the health and safety of the world’s population is the number one priority that we should all care about. These kinds of challenges are bound to continue happening as we live in a globalised society, so we also need to learn important lessons for the future. The fate of the cycling season remains unknown, so in the meantime it only makes sense to stay calm and focus on controllable factors, stay adaptable while looking for opportunities, and to embrace the process of working towards big goals. I think we might see a lot of very fit riders out hunting Strava segments and tearing it up on Zwift this season.
Thanks for reading, you can follow me on Instagram @leahkirchmann and Twitter @L_Kirch.