The coronavirus holds the world in its grasp and more and more sport events and competitions are being cancelled. Teams and athletes are trying to find ways to stay fit and motivated in this period of time until they get the green light to get started again. Mitchelton- SCOTT came up with a great idea: they started an online competition for their fans and pro riders and use the Tacx indoor trainers and Zwift platform to get this done. We spoke about it with Matthew White, head of the sports directors of the men’s team.

Together with six other sports directors, White and his team’s main responsibility is to manage everything at the races and all the logistics around the races. They have a team of 28 riders and they race for 250 days a year. Sometimes there are three programs on three different continents on one day. So it’s quite a dynamic calendar study for them to get everything organized between January to October. Especially now with all the travel restrictions and race cancellations due to the coronavirus.

The team started this season in a strong way, with several victories, second overall in the multiple stage races of Valencia and Ruta del Sol. Their big early season success was with Adam Yates who was crowned winner of UAE Tour and secured his first WorldTour overall victory. However, the last two stages in the Emirates were cancelled after two staff members on the tour were suspected of contracting the coronavirus.

Mitchelton- SCOTT soon decided to skip the upcoming eight races on the calendar. While the majority of the WorldTour teams chose to attend the current races in Europe, the Australian pro team found a way to simulate the races they are missing. “It’s quite a strange period at the moment,” White said. “We have to adapt so we’re having a training camp in Spain where we simulate the race load. The majority of our riders live in Andorra or Spain, so without travelling too much in their own country, we have a group of riders training very hard to simulate the load they would have had in Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico.”

Moving into the virtual world

To make the best out of the current non-racing period and to stimulate their pro riders, the team organized a group ride on Zwift last Sunday. Many riders of the men’s and woman’s team joined this ride together with over a 1300 people at home. According to White, there were a couple of goals to do so, but the main reason was to engage their fans. The vast majority of the team was available for this event and it was such a success that they announced 16 further online events in Zwift. “We’re going to involve everybody in the team for these events and every rider will join at a minimal of two times. It is also a great way to keep the team connected while they are not at the races. The team got behind it and the riders really enjoyed the first event. We will be doing some easy going and some harder and more challenging stuff over the next two weeks.”

The team shared a calendar with all their online events on Zwift and you can expect riders like the Yates brothers, Daryl Impey, Gracie Elvin and Annemiek van Vleuten. There are ‘Pro Workouts’, ‘Paces and Race’ rides and a ‘Mountain Goat challenge’. There’s even the opportunity to win an entry to race in teams with the pro riders, how cool is that? Check out the event calendar at the bottom of this article.

White explains that these events in Zwift are not just for fun for the pro riders. “Some of these sessions are actually quite hard. In the current training camp, these online events are integrated in their intervals and intense sessions. What we’re trying to achieve over the next coming days is giving the guys a race intensity while they are away from the races. A great way is using a home trainer and using Zwift as a tool for this.”

The team switched to Tacx bike trainers this season and the team is happy with that. “These days the quality of the home trainers is so good and the last couple of years, the evolution of home trainers is been incredible. The big advantage is that you are in total control of your effort,” White stated. “The feedback I’m getting from all the athletes on the NEO 2T is great. All of our riders have one at home, so when we called them to jump on the Zwift rides, most of them were able to compete. They really enjoyed using the home trainers and Zwift has been a great tool to help them stay connected and feel that they’re still a part of the team that is competing, even though we’re not pinning a racing number on their back.”

Returning to the real world

The question remains for the coming period when they can race again in the real world. “A lot of the decisions around the coronavirus will be made for us by the governments. It’s such an everchanging landscape, but let’s finger cross that a lot of the races will go on,” White said. “Many sport events are cancelled or played without crowd. But cycling is quite a unique sport, there is crowd everywhere. The race organisers will have to modify the start and finish (to avoid crowd over there). At the end of the day, the best thing for our sport is that the virus is not transmitted into the general public. So whatever guidance we get from the governments, we’ll be following that in the next couple of weeks.”

All riders of the pro team have a target on the calendar when they will be coming back and everybody keeps working hard and looking towards that goal. “But the situation might get worse. We don’t have control of that. They are also aware if any of those races will be cancelled in the coming weeks, things will change. If so, it’s going to make a massive gap in a lot of riders racing programs. But it’s going to be the same for everyone, so the teams that adjust the quickest and have the best communication with their riders will benefit from this.”

“Look, my guys are still professional athletes,” White continued. “The need to be ready to compete whenever they’re told to compete. If you’re honest and transparent with those riders and keep them motivated, they’ll be ready to come back in the competition whether it is in two weeks or two months. But this is something we haven’t had to experience as a sport for a long time. Hopefully this is the last time we have to experience this, but in the end: we’re only a small section of society and what we don’t want is to spread this too much and if we can limit that, it is the best thing for everyone,” he concluded.