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.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.