Pixelated Pro Pelotons and COVID-19
Ned Boulting wrote a fantastic piece about the 2020 pro-racing scene without the racing. As this is a science and cycling blog, the appearance of nCOVID-19 and the abandonment of the pro calendar and my own racing and riding is taking a shock no-one could have expected in late 2019. As the global coronavirus outbreak makes waves around the globe, Ned touches on a number of important pertinent points where the future as expected isn't going to go the way we expected. The Asian ^& Pacific races, Classics, Giro, TdF, Olympics, Vuelta, Worlds and end of year classics predicted for 2020 at the end of 2019 won't play out the way they were planned. Globally nCOVID-19 has the potential to kill in the millions with a 3.4% mortality rate, giving the real possibility that someone within my 6 Degrees of Separation will die. This can be immediate family through to a business contact or someone within my social or professional links. Over the past few weeks I've been paying attention to the epidemiologists and economists on what impact this will have. My work life is already being massively impacted by precautions taken at work, working from home, supply chain collapse and potential economic implications far greater then the previous global economic down turns and recessions. My personal life is likely to be either directly effected (I or my family becomes ill) or indirectly (access restrictions, others panic buying stripping consumer supply chains and volatile prices). Which means things: predictions!
1) My prediction for 2020 is that the viral spread will be difficult to contain and the spread will continue for the remaining of Q1 and Q2.
Into Q3 the viral spread will still be in pockets but either being managed or reducing due to changes in the environment. As the northern hemisphere comes out of winter, the virus will find it harder to jump from host to host which will aid slowing the spread. Where government decrees of curfews, travel bans, isolation and quarantine procedures will put restraint on the spread, humans have the ability to bend, flaunt and overrule these initiatives which will mean that the transmissions will continue. Changing in humidity and temperature will have a much greater impact. However, persistent clusters (geographically) will continue until a method of vaccination can remove it or the risk will be that when the winter returns in 9 months, a secondary strain may do a second epidemic until the next vaccine can be adapted from the nCOVID-19 strains protein. Any vaccine for the virus will take a relatively long time in development and distribution to get into populations. Even with mass vaccination programs, the speed to drop infection rates to a RO value less than 1 will take some time to do. This means that restrictions are going to be in place well into the second half of the year. Mass gatherings will be curtailed where possible and there will be tester events to see if re-introduction of accesses either has no effect or causes an incident relapse.
Population and society
2) Mortality: A virus is a much smarter entity than humans, there will be some needless deaths.
The DNA/RNA differences will be vast between a human and the virus, but a virus cannot have stupidity. Humans can be stupid. And invariably are stupid. Although the Risk Level is currently low in most OECD countries, the population most at risk from death due to the nCOVID-19 virus are those who are already weakened in immune response or have respiratory problems; so the mortality rate currently pegged at 3.4% is not a uniform 3.4% by demographic. You find that the rate is far higher in the susceptible groups and diminishes in those who have greater fitness and stronger immune systems so in effect, we will see a thinning of the "weak." I quote mark weak not as a derogatory term, but as a reference to those liable to illness. This is where human stupidity comes in. At the moment the general media (news and social) are feeding on the spread which is causing panic behaviours, with the potential to harm through the removal of essentials from where they are needed. If areas where humans interact (shopping centers, work places, hospitals, GP surgeries etc) are denied hand sanitisers because these have been horded for personal use in distribute locations, then disease spread at locations where transfer is likely to be greatest isn't going to be stopped.
3) The net global mortality and financial correction has the potential for near to long term benefit.
The OECD countries have gone through tremendous expansion and prosperity for the past 70 years. We've had a massive increase in living standards and conditions, wages, net value and worth, air quality, employment rights and safety, disposable incomes, human rights, equalities and the lowest conflict deaths per capita ever. Our population has boomed. The holistic metric of human health is extremely complex and there's little opportunity to say if or when "peak human" was or will be, but where life expectancy values were showing continual increase, recent we've been observing a slowing and decline. And where increase in life expectancy (quantity) is seen as the positive metric, it doesn't take into account the condition of the human at death (quality). Healthy all through life and sudden death at 80; or declining health supported by medicine since 60 with death at 85?
Avoiding the conspiratorial undertones, the appearance of the nCOVID-19 virus appears to be the potential natural correction to a lot of the human races problems. Where increased prosperity has brought increase life comfort, the reality is that it has raised new human problems. Over consumption and consumerism, coupled to a the heavy reliance on pharmaceutical products to overcome the negative effects of our excessive lifestyle and aging is causing a physical and mental human crash while destroying the planet we live on. Since the isolation of penicillin in the mid 20th century, it's taken us less than 50 years to abuse antibiotics to the point where antibiotic resistance is a threat regressing us back to the 1930's. We may have higher life expectancy values, but the methods of getting there is a fight between the opposing forces of life styles which are prematurely aging us pitted against the number of pharmaceutical and medical interventions to keep us going. Currently, 15% of the US population over the age of 65 have the possibility of major adverse drug-drug interactions due to 84.1% of the population being dependent on 1 prescription drug, and 30.6% dependent on at least 5 concurrent prescription medications. In a recent release, 70% of the US is overweight, 40% of US citizen are obese with 10% sever obese and this isn't just an effect on our waistlines. The drain on productivity from impaired cognitive ability, dementia, anxiety and depression and then increased medical cost of care puts an inordinate amount of strain of society through loss of action and potential; and the inefficiency of maintaining a workforce with cost associated with medical covers and insurances. As cardio pulmonary function is negatively impacted by excess weight and nCONVID-19 having the potential to cause (in more severe cases) pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death in those who already have these organs overloaded, the mortality profile currently seen in the older age categories has the potential to reach to the younger groups through physical health. (Interestingly, as the virus is associated with ACE2 "receptor" in the lung lining as the point of binding in egress into the body. However, morbidity with smokers is lower then in non-smokers. In pre-peer reviewed discussion, this is potentially due to the speed of immune response - in smokers were cilia are routinely destroyed therefore more susceptible to infection, the immune system is effectively "pre-primed" to respond by already being in an active state. A good discussion is found here). Should nCONVID-19 truly take hold in populations, my sympathies will be to those at risk in social-economic hardships, the fit elderly and those with genetic defects. Where we'd likely see higher mortality rates outside of the young, elderly and genetically pre-disposed, is in the obese and inactive.
In much the same way we will have economic corrections as stock value outstrips the market value and a shock brings the market back in alignment (yield curves have shown inversion signaling the likelihood of a recession in 2020), the nCOVID-19 virus has the potential to force a human correction in behavior and health. Much of the talk in reply to the pandemic has been "a war like footing" which is extremely timely with the increase of focus in climate change. No one like change until changes starts and then continual change is normal. This will be the case.
In 2020 we've had the Australian bush fires which were regional and little interest beyond clicks outside of AUS. We have Global Climate Change were the blame is passed pillar to post and not addressed. But nCONVID-19 has torn up the rule book and forced change. It's impact is everyone, all the time and the personal effects will be felt throughout 2020. And the mobilisation to prevent deaths will show that global mobilisation can be done for other global problems. Currently, the opinion is indicating that global CO2 emission are likely to (temporarily) reduce as a result of the pandemic. The reduction in Chinese emissions has clearly indicated that the impact on production can be hit.
The phrase "Let the World Burn" will be politically incorrect for climate change, but "Let the Fat Die" shouldn't need defending.
In the next year we will see the deaths of those we've loved, but this should also be the clear message of we need to get our shit together, reduce our ecological footprint, improve our health, get off suckling the teat of lifestyle corrective drugs and tackle fixing the mental health problems this is causing.
So to bring the medical back to the 25mm rubbers.
The consensus appears to be that professional cycling in 2020 will not be the same as the 2019 pro season. Evening crits, TT's, one day classics, mini-tours, world champs, Olympics and Grand Tours have the potential for cancellations, postponing or financial collapse. The pro calendar and related financial backing is likely to be decimated in the next 12 months. In the grand scheme of things, pro-cycling is the 1% at the top of cycling but inspires the 99% to ride and keep active. In financial value, money flows into the professional ranks through advertising and sponsorship to filter down to other low-level projects. So, by removing the top tier, what's the future to hold?
There are around 1,000 riders in the World Tour and Pro-Continental teams on liveable wages who will now have to be rethinking their year with indefinite objectives to build towards. They will be considering their health risks and exposures as a pro-rider will spend a great deal of time in airports and public spaces. Risking an infection would put a rider out by months. Sponsors will be wanting these riders to be seen because that's why the sponsor them. So what to do??
Predictions and possibilities - eSports will boom.
My prediction is that the financial sense of cycling will come into check. "Force majeure" is going to be a term exchanged a lot this year on insurance risks and cancellation charges and with the physical stress riders put themselves through at minimal body fat levels, a viral infection in the pro-peloton will erode the rider value immensely. Would a rider sue the team or race fro being forced to a hotel where they can get a virus and wipe out all form? Would not going void contract obligations? Events will get cancelled as by definition, the races can't be held behind closed doors. Even Velodrome will be quarantined.
And where there's a problem, there's always someone on the way to a solution. eSports. Platforms such as Peloton and Zwift have the opportunity for massive capitalisation as both amateurs and pro-cyclist looking for somewhere to ride and compete. There are brands such as Peloton, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, Zwift, Wahoo, Taxx, Sigma, Garmin, Bryton etc all in the area of eSport software and equipment providers to supply the market (providing they're not hit by Chinese supply chain problems).
Where Zwift is currently a privately held company with second round funding in battle with Peloton which went to IPO in Q4 2019, this could be the year where Zwift can capitalise on a lot of amateur athletes under curfew and riders without races.
Watch this space.