15 Apr 2020

New Zealand cyclists facing uncertain future

8:34 pm on 15 April 2020

Professional cycling is feeling the pinch as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and it's hitting New Zealand's leading riders in the pockets.

New Zealand cyclist Sam Bewley - pictured competing in last year's Tour of Flanders

New Zealand cyclist Sam Bewley - pictured competing in last year's Tour of Flanders Photo: TDWsport Sarl / DPPI / AFP

The World Tour has been on hold for a month and is unlikely to return until the middle of July at the earliest, forcing its biggest event, the Tour de France, to be postponed.

It has seen several top teams including Mitchelton-Scott and CCC introduce wage cuts, in some cases up to 80 percent, for the duration of the lockdown.

New Zealand riders Sam Bewley, Jack Bauer and Dion Smith are all on Mitchelton's books, while compatriot Patrick Bevin rides for CCC.

Newly crowned national champion Shane Archbold is in the first season of a two-year contract with powerhouse Belgian team Deceuninck-Quick Step, after forcing his way back to the World Tour, and is hopeful they don't follow suit.

"A lot of teams are in financial difficulty, but so far my team is not one of them," Archbold said. "Fingers crossed it stays that way because that'd be another hiccup along the way.

"The team's in a really solid place financially. It's not one of the big budget teams around the world, but it's in a good position and they've got confirmed sponsors for the next few years."

However, the sport's perilous financial state is playing on every rider's minds, including Archbold's.

"Cycling generally, financially isn't a very sound sport anyway. We don't have the backing of TV rights, ticket sales and all that type of thing.

"It's a limited sport financially. It revolves heavily on sponsors and then it comes down to if the sponsors have the money after the pandemic."

Shane Archbold will ride in his first Tour de France.

Shane Archbold ahead of his first Tour de France in 2016. Photo: Photosport

Riders are also comparatively poorly paid athletes, especially when compared to football.

"In the cycling world I don't think there's too many that can chuck their hands up to take a full pay cut.

"I'm definitely not going to do that, that's for sure. I wouldn't be able to pay the rent."

The uncertainty extends to the season as a whole, with Archbold unsure when his next professional ride will be.

He was on Deceuninck's long list for the Tour de France but said he did not "know how long the long list was".

"I'm a very important part of my sprinter's winning format and he was a shoo-in to go to the Tour so it was only a matter of me being fit and healthy and pleasing the new team and doing a good job I could have been on a shortlist.

"But I guess I'll never know."

For now Shane Archbold remains confined to his apartment in Girona, Spain, where he has been for more than a month.

Spain went into lockdown almost two weeks before New Zealand and has extended it until at least April 26th.

"It's been a long time that's for sure.

"As a cyclist you're always on the go so it's pretty hard to sit still and do nothing for a while, but getting really used to it now."

Archbold is not allowed to ride outdoors, only leaving his apartment to go to the supermarket and has been restricted to training at home.

"My mental capacity is limited to about two hours. Any more than that and the head explodes."

It appears enough to appease his team.

"They're pretty happy from what I understand, talking to my trainer, with what I'm doing so far. I'm still doing the intensity I'm just not getting the hours in."

But he's the only Deceuninck rider in Girona and his jealous of some of his team-mates based elsewhere.

"The Belgians are out there doing 150/200km straight lines away from their house and back. They're not quite as strict as some other countries. But here you need paperwork to be on the streets pretty much."

Bewley, Bauer and Smith are also in town, while George Bennett and Tom Scully are in nearby Andorra, which has similar restrictions.

Bevin returned to New Zealand before the lockdown came into effect here, but all seven of them joined up for a virtual ride on the popular indoor cycling app Zwift and encouraged the public to join them.

"It was quite good to have a bit of banter on the online chat and ride with a few people from Timaru I wouldn't usually train with ... hopefully it turns into a weekly thing for until the end of the lockdown at least."

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