Home > News

Lotto-Soudal to divide team into three units for duration of the season to minimize COVID-19 risk

Will this be the model for other WorldTour squads?

With post-COVID-19 lockdown training soon to resume for road cycling, the Lotto-Soudal men’s team outlined its plan to split its 28-riders and numerous staff members into three units to minimize contamination. The members of the squad will be organized around the three Grand Tours, team doctor Jens De Decker told Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, and will train separately.

Referring to the units as “bubbles”, De Decker explained, “Each group gets a different color and follows its own race agenda. The aim is to keep the gradient between the bubbles as limited as possible. The less rotation, the smaller the chance of mutual contamination.” The tri-bubble system will allow team medical staff to better monitor and test riders and staff. De Decker added that each bubbles’ equipment for the season might be stored separately as well.

A look at the new WorldTour calendar suggests that a Tour de France gang might double as the Belgian Cobbled Classics outfit, while the Ardennes Classics platoon could go on to the Vuelta. For instance, Caleb Ewan, the Australian sprinter who claims three of Lotto-Soudal’s four 2020 victories, might be grouped with lead-out men Tosh Van Der Sande and Roger Kluge in a Tour de France bubble, with stage hunters Thomas De Gendt and Tim Wellens thrown into the mix. New addition Philippe Gilbert would likely be in the Ardennes/Vuelta outfit.

New addition Philippe Gilbert in late February’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

De Decker noted that with the overlap of races in the revised calendar, logistics and team and rider goals might make it necessary for riders to switch bubbles. “We have to stay flexible. An important condition is that the rider in question is re-tested. Exactly how we will do that remains to be seen in detail.”

Although nothing was said specifically of the 14-member women’s team, it’s likely that it too will be organized into clusters. Another issue yet to be addressed is whether the bubble system will require more team cars and staff. Lotto-Soudal was one of several teams that had to take pay cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

De Decker hopes that other teams will adopt the Lotto-Soudal model. “Team doctors are in constant consultation with each other and with the UCI,” he said. “Solidarity is great. It is nice to be able to exchange ideas about exactly how to organize it. It would therefore be a shame if certain teams break through solidarity and wipe their feet on the whole approach.”