The Santos Tour Down Under and other Australian professional cycling races, scheduled for January 2021, have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The decisions were taken given the very severe travel restrictions for Australia. Currently, entry is only permitted for Australian citizens and permanent residents or those with an exemption. A mandatory 14-day quarantine in a designated facility is also in place.
According to specialist website “Cyclingnews”, the organizers of the Santos Tour Down Under hoped that at least 10 teams from the highest division – UCI WorldTeams – would be willing to participate in the race, and planned to complete the peloton by inviting smaller Australian teams.
Less than five UCI WorldTeams were willing to participate
However, less than five UCI WorldTeams were willing to participate, with “Cyclingnews” claiming that the local team, Mitchelton-Scott, as well as Deceuninck-QuickStep and Israel Start-Up Nation were among them. On the other hand, AG2R La Mondiale and Bahrain McLaren have both confirmed to “Cyclingnews” that they declined invitations.
“The Santos Tour Down Under is a much-loved event on the world cycling and Australian sporting calendars and we know how important this event is to the people of South Australia,” said Hitaf Rasheed, Executive Director of Events South Australia, in a press release.
The complexities and risks involved with quarantining and international border closures have ultimately proved too much to ask
“We have worked with our stakeholders, [South Australia] Health and [South Australia] Police to create a successful strategy to bring the international event to South Australia.
“However, the complexities and risks involved with quarantining and international border closures have ultimately proved too much to ask of some of the teams, who have endured a stressful, challenging and compressed 2020 season that will run later than normal.”
The Santos Tour Down Under is part of cycling’s most prestigious series of races, the UCI WorldTour, and has been held non-stop in the Adelaide area since 1999.
Scheduled for January, a few months before the key races of the season, it is rarely used by riders specifically as a key preparation race. However, the hilly terrain in South Australia often allows riders to test their legs and shape after winter training camps and preparation.
Other Australian races held towards the start of the season include the one-day Great Ocean Road Race, held in honour of 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, the newly created Race Torquay, and the country’s oldest stage race, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
In addition, each of these races has a version for women.
However, in recent days, the hosting of all Australian events has been put into question, and in the last few days, their cancellation has also been officially confirmed.
Riders often look to begin their season outside of Europe because of the often unfavourable winter weather conditions. Other races used for this purpose include Argentina’s Vuelta a San Juan, the Tour Colombia and the UAE Tour.
The European cycling season usually begins in mid-February, with short multi-day races in France and Spain being precursors to the major classics and stage races. These begin in late February and early/mid-March, respectively.
Only a handful of races were completed in 2020 before the pandemic grew out of scale
As is the case for almost all sports, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected cycling calendars and events. Only a handful of races were completed in 2020 before the pandemic grew out of scale, with the Paris-Nice ending on 14 March 2020 after its last stage was cancelled.
All races were then suspended by the world governing body for cycling, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), until 1 July 2020 for lower category events and 1 August 2020 for the most prestigious races, which form the UCI WorldTour.
A heavily revised calendar saw most, but not all races held in the second part of the year. This includes the three most important stage races, the “Grand Tours”. The Tour de France was held in late-August/early-September, the Giro d’Italia moved to an October slot and the Vuelta a España was rescheduled for late-October/early-November.
Usually, the three races are held in July, May and late-August/early-September, respectively.
The UCI hopes to run a relatively normal calendar in 2021, though this is subject to governmental restrictions regarding travel and the hosting of sporting events. As races are often held on public roads, it is very difficult to impose effective crowd control, or completely ban fans.
The Australian races are due to return to the cycling calendar in 2022.