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CYCLING THRU THE PANDEMIC - Themes of the Brave New World that was 2020

The year 2020 will be remembered as the Year of the Covid Pandemic. I still remember sitting by my TV watching reports trickle in on some virus spreading through China with mild interest, thinking it would never reach our shores. By mid-March, that had all changed as lock down orders due to Covid-19 spread globally like wildfire! Work and school went virtual, toilet paper flew off the shelves as if it were made of hundred-dollar bills, and ‘Zooming’ took over our lives as dominant means of staying in touch with friends and family. I still recall the construction of the POP-UP HOSPITAL in the fields of Central park across from Mount Sinai hospital thinking ‘Is this really happening’?

As a cycling coach, March usually means the start of not only the Collegiate bike racing season, but also USA Cycling events nationwide. But this year, a mere 3 days before the start of our Collegiate season, universities began pulling their athletes out for safety reasons and thus a Spring season (and eventual Fall) were gone like that! With basically no work on my horizon, I was pacing our cramped NYC apartment like a caged animal. That is when my loving wife said – “Mikael, stop watching CNBC and get out of the house! Go for a bike ride!”. She is a smart woman and I was obsessed with watching the news 24/7.

I haven’t had a Spring to myself in many years so it was strange riding without a pack of Under 23 riders following behind. I’ll admit, riding in March and even early April was eerie. Streets were barren as people stayed inside for fear of the unknown. Personally, I felt safer outside on my bike than in line at the grocery store mask and all.

Early on, I avoided Central Park for the most part as the sparse crowd using the park were a tad on the over-zealous side when it came to protecting their spatial relationships. Passing a jogger without giving them a 20yd buffer was met with not only the Evil Eye but a few choice swear words! So, I went over the George Washington Bridge into NJ, where the landscape become even more desolate. Riding on the ever-popular route 9W, I saw no one – even on the weekends. Riding thru Piermont, NY was right out of a scene from the Walking Dead with empty sidewalks, boarded up store fronts and no traffic.

Come May, outdoor exercise started looking a bit more normal as people emerged from lock downs and needed to get out, stretch their legs and find some fresh air (even if it was with a mask on). Then at some point along the way some very positive trends began to take over. Cycling was again in VOGUE (as was golf and tennis and any other sport where social distancing was part of the equation).

This Pandemic would change everything! Working remotely would send shares of companies like Zoom, Wayfair and Docusign to the moon, and working out remotely would do the same for Peleton, Nautilus, Zwift (more on them later) as well as bicycle companies globally. For Peleton, the pandemic seemed to allow them to grow into their already lofty valuation, whereas for Nautilus, it saved the company from almost certain bankruptcy. Wall Street had been put in alert.

Bikes Are Back!

From Colnago to Canyon, Cannondale to Schwinn, bikes are back in VOGUE! But the Pandemic meant factory closures and this led to less inventory not only being produced, but shipping logistics would be severely tested. The prefect storm as bike stores were running out of stock as consumers sought out socially distanced activities. It did not stop there. Home fitness trends took over as the brick and mortar gym model began to fail under the weight of lock-down restrictions. Lululemon would buy Mirror, Peleton would show rapid growth (but at a cost as wait time for bike deliveries spiked – much to the benefit of its competitors).

Here are a few headlines that showed just how Wall Street was thinking about the future:

Zwift used to be an off-season thing (at least it was for me) as nothing compared to riding in the good old outdoors. But then a strange thing called a Global Pandemic happened and indoor became our ‘safe heaven’ and Zwift took over from there. From Virtual races streamed live to a pre-Tour de France done on Zwift (with Pro riders taking part) to something called “Everesting”, Zwift will always be part of the landscape that was 2020! Just what is ‘Everesting’? Here is how Zwift describes it:

One ride. One hill. 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) of elevation gain.

Everesting, named after the highest mountain on Earth, is a grueling challenge for cyclists. Find a climb and keep riding your bike up and down until you’ve climbed the height of Mount Everest. Do this in Zwift and it’s called virtual Everesting, or “vEveresting.”

The idea was popularized by the Australian cycling club Hells 500, known for their epic rides. They were inspired by George Mallory, grandson of the British Everest mountaineer, who in 1994 rode Mount Donna Buang until he reached the height of the famous peak. Hells 500 created an Everesting website which includes a set of Everesting rules, a Hall of Fame, and a special kit for successful Everesters and vEveresters. And it caught on. As of fall 2019, there have been more than 3,900 successful outdoor Everestings and more than 260 on Zwift.

Then there was the explosion that was ZWIFT (and bringing terms like “Zwifting” and “Everesting’ to our vocabularies) NOV – All About EVERESTING (written in 2019!) MACRH – WSJ journalist goes Zwifting! APRIL – Q&A with Zwift Insider Charle Issendorf (and fellow NYer) APRIL – Cameron Jefferies takes the Everest Challenge MAY – Mark Cavendish Does His Own Everesting JUNE – ASO partners with ZWIFT for Virtual TdF JULY – Alberto Contador takes ‘Everesting’ outdoors!

Casualties of the Pandemic

Not all was rosy during the summer return-to-fitness craze that saw bike brands get bought out at a frenzied pace and Peleton grow to a $34 billion company. Left in the wake of Covid-19 were mass start endurance events like marathons and triathlons. However, the UCI was able to post-pone and pull off not 1 Grand Tour, but all 3 (and in the Fall months to make things really interesting). The other casualty from this pandemic as been good old-fashioned Brick and Mortar gyms, which seem to drop like flies as the months of lock-down dragged on.

By late summer there were signs that we were rounding the corner and returning to normalcy. First on the front was the UCI posting a condensed pro cycling calendar, which included ALL THREE Grand Tours (even as those countries began to see upticks in Covid cases as Fall approached). The UCI was able to do this by creating roving bubbles for the racers and caravan, scheduling frequent testing days and setting forth strict protocols in the event a rider or support staff did test positive.

The result? Three of the most amazing Grand Tours I can recall. Over the nine plus weeks of competition that stretched into November for the Vuelta, over 4,500 Covid tests were administered and ONLY 14 positives were returned! This year’s Grand Tours not only saw epic battles for nearly every jersey, but last-minute wins by the likes of Tadej Pogacar in the Tour de France with an epic time trial on the penultimate day as well as a win by INEOS domestique Tao Geoghegan Hart in the Giro. And in triathlon, Ironman made a return to racing in November with IM Florida and sets the stage for more races in 2021!

So here is to a 2021 that is measurably better than 2020!


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