As the start of the 2022 racing season begins in a few days, the UCI is preparing to impose strict rules to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19. Hopes of a more ‘normal’ season with the advent of effective vaccinations have crumbled amid an exponential rise in cases across Europe caused by the more infectious variant of Omicron.
The UCI has updated previous rules imposed before vaccines became widespread and, as long as infection rates remain high, expect to see separate riders on podiums, wearing masks and donning their own leader’s jerseys. .
The measures will apply to most UCI-sanctioned road competitions and, where local restrictions are in place, the stricter of the two will apply.
This means that runners must respect the measures adopted by the French Parliament on Monday which require them to be vaccinated for races in this country. The season opens there with the Grand Prix Cycliste de Marseille La Marseillaise on January 30th.
Other early-season races are also affected by local ordinances – only vaccinated visitors can attend the Saudi tour from February 1-5, and the UAE requires visitors to have both vaccination and boosters recent. This race takes place from February 20 to 26.
UCI rules reactivate all “non-pharmaceutical” measures against COVID-19 that were put in place in 2020: wearing of masks, disinfection facilities, PCR testing requirements and more due to the more infectious variant of Omicron causing the latest increase in cases.
The federation will deploy a “UCI Health Pass” and hopes to convince teams with low vaccination rates to have everyone vaccinated. According to a UCI presentation in December, 97% of Women’s WorldTeam members, 86% of ProTeam members and 79% of WorldTeam members have been vaccinated.
A runner would obtain a Health Pass within a week to four weeks after a complete cycle of vaccination with one of the vaccines authorized in Europe: Comirnaty vaccines from Pfizer, Spikevax from Moderna, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, AstraZeneca Vaxseveria or Novovax Nuvaxovid, or one week after PCR-confirmed COVID-19 infection.
The regulations do not absolutely require you to be vaccinated: a Health Pass can be issued on proof of a negative PCR test within 48 hours of taking part in a race, but must be renewed every 10 days. For Grand Tours, negative test results must be presented prior to arrival, regardless of vaccination status, and testing for COVID-19 will continue to take place on rest days.
Fortunately for runners, the UCI suggests that collecting samples via saliva is acceptable, which means no more swabs in the nose.
Fines for non-compliance range from CHF 1,000 to CHF 10,000.
The Belgian teams are ready
According to Het Laatste Nieuws, the Belgian riders and teams are prepared for the requirements. Jumbo-Visma spokesman Ard Bierens told the outlet that anyone planning to attend the French races had already met the requirements.
QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team physician Toon Cruyt said the team “has been rushing over the past few months and vaccinating all riders and staff for the Classics campaign a second time.”
Classics runners on QuickStep, he said, won’t get their booster shots until after that block of races.
Greg Van Avermaet, who would also wait until after the Classics to get his recall, said he had COVID-19 in November and received both injections the previous May.
“If I hadn’t gotten sick, I would have already taken my recall,” said the AG2R-Citroën driver. “I’m definitely in favor of vaccination, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m some kind of Djokovic,” he said, referring to professional tennis player Novak Djokovic who was kicked out of Australia for refusing to be vaccinated.
Although vaccination rates are good in most teams, the UCI presentation indicated that there is great variability between teams. In a survey of teams between October and November 2021, some had vaccination rates as low as 40%.
However, most teams should meet the requirements: three-quarters of teams have more than 80% of their members vaccinated.