Coronavirus COVID19 – How we can help

2020 is a year we will all remember. Fear of the Coronavirus outbreak is spreading through social media and news outlets and nations around the world are mobilising for a global response. As travel is restricted and social distancing is encouraged, we look at the impacts on the cycling industry and what our role as a magazine and as individuals needs to be.

What is coronavirus?

So what’s all the fuss about? If you haven’t yet looked into it, coronaviruses are part of a large family of viruses that cause a broad spread of illnesses, some minor, some serious. The coronavirus that is of current concern is COVID-19, a new strain discovered in 2019 that had not previously been found in humans. The virus causes flu-like symptoms, respiratory issues, fever, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties and is of particular concern to the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Coronavirus exhibits high transmission rates. A contaminated person will transmit the virus to an estimated 1.4–2.5 people in a healthy population. As of 16/03/2020, there are currently 164,837 global cases recorded. As the world mobilises with many different strategies to contain, control or slow the spread of the virus, borders are closing, travel and free movement are being restricted and trade routes are shutting down. Knock-on effects on economies and industry are inevitable.

Why are you reading about coronavirus in our magazine?

It’s true, we are not an outlet for medical advice, nor are we a platform on which to debate the very different strategies being employed by governments to control the threat of COVID-19. However, coronavirus is having huge implications on the industries and communities that we love, impacting us all, both as businesses and as individuals. While we don’t want to add to the confusion, panic and ‘doom and gloom’ that is feeding international media outlets. We can inform, discuss and summarise the implications on our industry and the personal impacts such measures are having on the cycling world.

We wish all our friends in the industry and community good luck and the best of health.

Everyone has a role to play, what is ours?

As outdoor enthusiasts, our readership generally fits into a demographic that represents a low risk from the consequences of infection of Coronavirus. However, we must do our bit to help those more vulnerable or elderly. Nobody likes making sacrifices, especially when it relates to the freedom to do something we love (like cycling). Still, at this sensitive time, regardless of our stance on the potential risk posed by Coronavirus, we must remain calm and make good choices to help further prevent the breakdown of our health services. We should follow the recommendations laid out by health authorities, washing our hands and taking care of how we interact, but there are also two things we can do that are unique to our cycling community.

Avoid risky activities. If we still have free movement. While it may be tempting to self-isolate throwing by ourselves down remote downhill trails, it’s important to remember that health services will be stretched to their limit. As such, we should take responsibility for our actions, make good choices and not increase the workload for hospitals or ambulance crews at this sensitive time. The trails are not going anywhere, and this is not a good time for a riding injury. If you have a turbo trainer, now is the time to get Zwift.

Our friend from Italy Alessandro Bomba Da Re is is setting a good example:

Help those who will suffer economically. Many of us have signed up for races, events and holidays this year. While it’s very frustrating not knowing if an event or holiday is going to be cancelled. We should remember before demanding a financial resolution that such payments have come from our ‘expendable cash’ reserves, our ‘fun funds’. Whereas to the organisers or tourism providers, they will represent wages, mortgage payments and food on the table. Rather than applying pressure, we should allow people space and time to recover from unexpected hards times.

We have closed our offices to continue working from home, the dogs will only be taking calls between 9-5pm

Coronavirus impacts on cycle tourism

Economically, one of the biggest victims of the Coronavirus outbreak will be the tourism sector. With global travel facing increasing disruption, thoughts of holidays or time overseas with friends is no longer an option. Italy is currently the hardest hit, with all activities on lockdown and travel restricted to only essential trips. Iconic riding destinations like Finale Ligure are closed for all biking and recreational activities, releasing the statement “We‘re dealing with the fact here that some guests still try to reach Finale and are being stopped by the police. Many others stress our inbox asking about possibilities for a vacation here right now. Please, if you‘re still in the area, leave and have a safe trip home. If you‘re on your way to Finale, turn around and go home.” France and Spain are now following Italy with lockdowns, Germany is encouraging residents to stay at home, Australia is enforcing a 14-day quarantine to new visitors. While the UK is slow-playing their response, there are rumblings of more comprehensive measures coming. With the summer in question, the situation is looking bleak for many tourism operators.

However, positive messages are being communicated too. Ernesto Hutmacher, owner of Massa Vecchia Bike Hotel states “we are positive and are not panicking. I am certain that this situation will end sooner or later – and then we will be ready to welcome our guests again. In the meantime, it’s time to paint the house on the Massa Vecchia farm, renovate the bathrooms and prepare for the next guests. If possible, we will build a skills park and maintain the trails”.

The impact of Coronavirus on the competitive mountain biking scene

Unfortunately, employing ‘social distancing’ goes directly against the very ethos of competitive mountain biking. You cannot engage in ‘social distancing’ in an environment of togetherness, where international competitors meet up to compete in front of hordes of spectators tightly packed on the sidelines. It will come as no surprise that the UCI (Union Cycliste International), not wanting to contribute to the spread of the virus, has announced (15th March) measures to prevent the gathering and movement of people for the safety of athletes and their families. As of the time of writing, the UCI is taking the following measures.

  • Cancelling any cycling event on the UCI International Calendar in territories identified at risk by the WHO
  • Suspension of all classifications for all events on the UCI International Calendar, across all disciplines, from 15 March 2020 and until further notice but at least until 3 April 2020. By freezing the points during the period indicated, the UCI is preserving sporting equity for the athletes.

This means postponement of the Giro d’Italia, also Tomas Van Den Springel, CEO of Flanders Classics, has implied that the Tour of Flanders faces possible cancellation and the Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has stated to a French radio station RMC that “it is hard to see how Paris-Roubaix could be different from the rest of the races”, implying that it too faces cancellation. USA Cycling has recommended the cancellation of all sanctioned events and many more grassroots and national series rounds are facing pressure to cancel.

The impacts of this will be two-fold. Not only do the organisers of events now face massive losses, even if successful insurance claims can be made delays are inevitable and hard times will be felt. But it will also be a massive blow to privateer racers. Without the protection of a big team, many privateers will have self-funded flights, accommodation and logistics from their own pockets with little chance of remuneration. Currently, there is no solid advice or conclusions about the projected timeline or predicted end of the virus countermeasures, it’s undoubtedly a nervous and uncertain time for mountain bike event organisers, and unfortunately many may not survive the year. We must do all we can to support the industry that we love.

How can we help at GRAN FONDO

With supply chains disrupted, increased home officing and travel restrictions, almost every business is facing new and unforeseen challenges, including us. The good news first: the team here faces changes, but no immediate impact on our working lives. While we see minimal health risk to our editorial team, we’ve closed our two offices in Germany and Scotland to minimize risk and avoid any tense working atmosphere with employees in direct contact. Thanks to our digital workflows and agile core team, the shift has been smooth and taken fast.

Of course, some things are out of our hands, and now we must make changes for the good of us all. As countries and normal everyday life are shut down. Many press camps and product presentations have been suspended and postponed, but luckily we can produce this content locally. So you can expect the same quality of content as always, but generated on local trails as our travel is limited. As of now, we also see no delays in our issue releases and publishing in general.

In terms of news content, we will avoid the clickbaity side of the Corona situation, despite it being a highly attractive topic for generating traffic. Instead, we will focus on spreading positivity from the sport that we love, and open up our platforms to assist in any crowdfunding or support activities that can help our community recover in this difficult time. Over the next few weeks, we’ll closely monitor the scene and see where and how we can help those businesses most in need to survive.

For us, it’s still hard to imagine how it must feel to live in harder affected countries like Italy, so as the situation evolves we’ll try to support the businesses in our industry that are affected the most. Robin Schmitt, Founder.

The bottom line

As terrifying buzz words such as ‘deadly’ ‘virus’ and ‘pandemic’ fuel the media, clogging social media streams with misleading information and putting reason and compassion in a stranglehold. Whatever your feelings or fears on the virus outbreak, we must remember that calmness, reasoning, patience and kindness are our best weapons against mass hysteria. Focus on the positive things around you, listen to government advice, don’t put yourself in a position where you could get hurt or risk others, make good decisions, look after the interests of our friends and family and spare a thought to those who face difficulties.

Our international editorial teams from E-MOUNTANBIKE, ENDURO and GRAN FONDO magazines have taken measures to help support their own nations response plans.

Words & Photos: GRAN FONDO Cycling