February 05, 2021 0 Comments
Words by Shane Stokes
Photos by SWpix.com
In the first of what will be a regular column looking at the 2021 season, Shane Stokes speaks to British Cycling’s Matt Brammeier about the twin complications of a pandemic and an exit from the European Union.
International cycling is a hugely complex sport to plan for. For any pro team or national setup, there are multiple riders competing in multiple races in multiple locations over the course of a long season, as well as training camps and other such commitments. It means that in a typical year, very precise planning is needed to handle all the logistics.
This season, though, things are even more complicated for those working for British Cycling. It’s an Olympic year, for one. Covid-19 is an ongoing headache, the pandemic persisting after it already wreaked havoc on the 2020 season. And the effect of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union on December 31 is also becoming apparent, requiring additional strategies in order to minimise the impact on the racing programme.
Matt Brammeier is a former professional rider who competed for a number of WorldTour and Pro Continental squads from 2011 onwards. He retired from competition in 2018, taking up the role as lead academy coach for Great Britain’s men’s endurance programme. He was also tasked with coordinating the activity of the elite men’s road riders at major events, thus filling the slot vacated by Rod Ellingworth.
Brammeier spoke to Conquista in recent days about the twin challenges imposed by Covid-19 and Brexit. He said that the pandemic is having a considerable effect on planning for the first part of the season. British Cycling’s events and activities were cancelled in early January as part of the country’s Covid-19 restrictions. There have also been considerable effects on international travel due to lockdown rules and the visitor limitations imposed by other countries.
“We can’t go anywhere, basically,” Brammeier said. “We can’t leave the country, we can’t go to Spain, we can’t go to France, we can’t go to Belgium, we can’t go to Holland. We can’t get anywhere. We are stuck in the UK, which isn’t ideal, but we are finding other ways to deal with it. We are putting together training camps in the UK and just supporting the riders here, really.”
The Great Britain Cycling Team is hoping to compete in a wide range of international events this season but there is uncertainty at present about what will happen. “It is a bit of an unknown at the moment,” Brammeier said. “The regulations say that we can’t go anywhere, but if we have a competition somewhere, we need to apply to the local government for exemptions. For the Cyclo-cross worlds, we had to apply to the Belgian government for an exemption from quarantine and an exemption to travel, which we got in the end. But France wouldn’t give it to us, Holland wouldn’t give it to us.
“We had to fly three vanloads worth of kit out to Belgium last week, as they were the only county that would give us the exemptions. That is the complexity of it all. Until we get there, we are just trying to plan things...it is last minute at the moment. We literally book travel the week before, to see if the racing is still on.”
Brammeier coaching at a UCI World Cup (c)swpix.com
The uncertainty about racing extended to the cyclo cross world championships, which took place last weekend in Ostend in Belgium. Last month the city mayor Bart Tommelein caused concern when he suggested the races could be cancelled, citing an outbreak of the South African variant of the virus. However he subsequently said the races would go ahead as the spread of the variant had been limited.
All competitors, team staff and others at the world championships needed to have a negative PCR test in order to attend, while the UCI cancelled the running of the junior races as an additional precaution.
Covid-19 aside, there have been additional hurdles to overcome for the current season. The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union has led to a swathe of new rules coming into effect, including limitations on travel to and from continental Europe.
One result of that relates to insurance. Brammeier explained that the insurance company now needs to be supplied with details such as driver names, vehicle registrations and travel dates a month before each trip. He notes that the nature of cycling means that plans often change, however, and this will be even more so the case this year due to Covid-19.
All smiles in the track centre (c)swpix.com
A more striking example of Brexit complications is the effect of customs rules which are now in place. Brammeier explained what would happen if a member of team staff wants to bring equipment into mainland Europe. “We have to list every single item in the van, every bit of equipment. You can imagine what the back of a team van is like - every wheel, every bike, what is in the toolbox…all the individual tools. Literally everything. And it all needs to be itemised with a purchase date and a value and everything. That is going to be a pretty big spending of our time.”
Fortunately, there is a workaround which can be used, although it will have implications for how the competitors travel. “We have been given guidance – the government says that we shouldn’t have to provide documents like Carnet customs forms if the bikes travel with riders, basically,” he said. “So every trip we make out to Europe we are going to have the riders in the van. We just have to think about logistics a little bit differently, I think. But we will work it out over time.”
British Cycling does have a service course in Belgium and so bringing a lot of equipment there at the start of the year will reduce the need to transport further equipment across the English Channel during the season. “We can have bikes at home and bikes at the race, so we don’t have to travel with bikes,” Brammeier said. “This makes it a little bit easier as we can just leave everything in Belgium. But that is another one of the questions – can we travel out in the car and leave everything there for two months, then fly in and out? We just don’t know. We will have to work it all out.”
Further considerations will become clear over time. British Cycling is still ascertaining what the new political scenario means for periods of time spent in Europe. Will riders be able to base themselves abroad for long blocks, or will there be limits on that? Brammeier said that this topic was being discussed in recent days in a bid to seek clarity.
On the road again (c)swpix.com
“The rule is that you can spend 90 days a year in Europe, but after that you have to apply for a visa. But how that works out for us as professional bike riders…obviously you apply for the visa for the country where you live, but if you are travelling so much, racing in different countries, then where do you apply for the visa? I am still scratching my head about that.
“I think there is something called a Frontiers Pass, or something like that; I think that is something that riders and teams are either looking at or already have. But Academy riders, for example…they are not employed so they are not professional. It is not their job per se, so whether they can do that I don’t know. So we may just have to look at limiting the days out there, making sure we go out a little bit later to races, come back as soon as possible and spend a bit less time out there until this all sorts itself out.”
Whatever your thoughts on Brexit, it seems that it plus Covid-19 have combined to make things considerably more complicated for bike racers and team staff travelling to and from Europe. Greater clarity about the changes and challenges will be achieved over time but, in the short term at least, there are quite a few known unknowns that have to be worked through.
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