Charlie Quarterman’s WorldTour debut was not supposed to end like this.
The 21-year-old Brit had finished another gruelling day in the Arabian heat on stage five of the UAE Tour and was asleep in his hotel room when his phone began to light up in the early hours.
Riders and staff had gone to bed before the decision was made to cancel the final two stages of the race due to two suspected cases of coronavirus among members of a team’s staff.
But while riders slept news quickly travelled overseas and Quarterman’s family were now trying to get in touch.
“They told me what was going on, but I just went back to sleep,” Quarterman told the PA news agency. “I thought the whole thing was a dream. Then they woke us up at 6am to test us.”
So began a two-day lockdown that saw around 600 riders, team staff, race staff and journalists quarantined across two hotels in Abu Dhabi over the last weekend in February.
While the media hotel saw individuals confined to their rooms, rules were more relaxed for riders and teams who were allowed to mix.
“I actually went to the spa in the morning which in retrospect doesn’t sound like the greatest idea,” Quarterman said.
“But everything kept changing. We might get a letter from reception which said from midnight we’d be locked in the room but by next morning everything was fine and we could go to the buffet.
“Those two days felt like two weeks. It was wonderful to think you had some time to do some nice constructive things but you just got so worked up with your mind going in circles you got around to none of it.
“I spent a lot of time refreshing Twitter and reading all the rumours. I spent a lot of time reading, trying to shut myself away.
“Then with some of the other guys we planned our great escape, which involved climbing down some scaffolding on the side of the building and sailing to Mumbai, but it didn’t come to that.”
Instead, teams and riders who had been in lockdown since Friday morning started being released on the Sunday as negative test results were returned – with the exception of Cofidis, Rusvelo-Gazprom and UAE Team Emirates as it later emerged there were some positive tests.
But the disruption to Quarterman’s first full season with Trek-Segafredo was only just beginning.
In an alternate universe he would have spent this week racing at Nokere Koerse and GP de Denain in Belgium and northern France, with the promise of a potential start at the Tour of Flanders if things went well.
Instead, he is back home at Oxford, wondering when his next opportunity might come.
This time last year, Quarterman was racing for the amateur Holdsworth-Zappi squad. But his exploits at the under-23s Giro d’Italia – the ‘Baby Giro’ – and his victory in the under-23 British time trial persuaded Trek-Segafredo he was ready to join the growing trend of young riders skipping the pro-continental level to jump straight into the WorldTour ranks.
Belgian phenom Remco Evenepoel started it in 2018, but during the World Championships in Yorkshire last year – where Quarterman finished 14th in the drenched under-23s time trial – it seemed most days another teenager was being snapped up.
“I still don’t really understand it,” Quarterman said. “It’s a little bit scary seeing how quickly guys are adapting. I feel like I’ve done a fairly long way around. It’s changed a lot from a few years ago.
“Guys have been doing really scientific training from a much younger age and they’re exposed to a professional world much sooner.
“But I think the big thing is confidence. When someone like Remco did it, all of a sudden a junior’s aim is not to sign for a good pro-conti team. They want to win all the races and get to the WorldTour.”