Cycling fans heading to the 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders next month have been told not to bring rucksacks to the biggest event on Belgium’s sporting calendar due to heightened security measures.
Close to 1 million people are expected to watch the race on Sunday 3 April from the roadside and with Belgium having stepped up precautions against terrorist attacks since last November’s massacre in Paris nothing is being left to chance.
The perpetrators of the attacks in Paris had been based in Brussels, where several police operations have targeted terrorist suspects in recent months, and the Belgian capital’s New Year’s Eve firework display was cancelled following intelligence reports of a planned attack.
Sporza reports that Joost Duhamel, head of police in the Flemish Ardennes area of East Flanders, told Belgian station Radio 2: “This is the first time we’ve encountered such a situation. Threat Level 3 means we have to take it very seriously.”
He said backpacks would not be allowed in ‘secure zones,’ which include the five Public Villages that organisers set up for the event with big screens and catering facilities.
Those are located at iconic points on the route – the Oude Kwaremont, the Paterberg, the Kruisberg, the Koppenberg and the finish in Oudenaarde – and are where most spectators congregate.
Besides backpacks, coolboxes will also be banned – bad news for anyone wanting to take a picnic (and a few bottles of the local brew) along for what for many will be a long day at the roadside, but good news for food and drink concession holders in the Public Villages.
The police chief added: “Leave your backpacks at home because you will not get into the secure zones with one; this is a measure intended to increase public safety.”
Concerns have been raised over the past year about the vulnerability of major cycling events to terrorist attacks.
In April, one of Germany’s biggest one-day races, the Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt, was cancelled at the eleventh hour due to “a solid suspicion” that a couple who had been arrested on suspicion of terrorism had targeted the race.
In November, immediately after the Paris attacks, Tinkoff rider Michael Rogers said he believed that the unique accessibility of cycling compared to other major sporting events could make the sport a terrorist target.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.