The Amstel Gold Race, due to have celebrated its 55th edition a week on Sunday, has been cancelled as a result of new national safety measures introduced in the Netherlands following a rise in cases of COVID-19 making it “almost impossible” to hold the event. With a number of countries across the continent showing sharp rises in the number of cases of coronavirus, the news raises the question of whether races elsewhere may suffer a similar fate.
This afternoon’s announcement was not unexpected – the Dutch stages of this week’s BinckBank tour were cancelled this morning, including today’s planned time trial, with the race now taking place exclusively in Belgium when it resumes on Thursday.
However, the cancellation of a race that forms part of the traditional ‘Ardennes week’ that in other years brings the Spring Classics to a close highlights how vulnerable this year’s revised calendar is to any rise in cases of coronavirus in individual countries and measures introduced to try and contain such outbreaks.
The Tour de France somehow made it all the way to Paris earlier this month despite the region around Nice, where the race started three weeks earlier, being designated a Red Zone shortly before the Grand Depart.
Meanwhile, last weekend, Imola in Italy hosted the UCI Road Cycling World Championships having only been appointed as the venue at the start of September after the original venue, Aigle-Martigny in Switzerland, had to pull out due to being unable to comply with Switzerland’s anti-COVID-19 measures.
The upcoming calendar features a number of one-day races, including three Monuments over three of the next four Sundays – Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix.
Both countries have seen a sharp rise in cases of coronavirus in recent weeks, and already the Prefect of France’s Nord department has called into question whether Paris-Roubaix should be held at all giving the ongoing health crisis.
There has been a much less pronounced rise in cases to date in Italy ahead of the Giro d’Italia starting on Sicily this Saturday, but Spain – where the Vuelta a Espana is due to begin on 20 October – is witnessing a much bigger increase in diagnoses.
In a statement this afternoon, organisers of the Amstel Gold Race said that both the men’s and women’s races had been cancelled since the three municipalities the route passes through – Eijsden-Margraten, Maastricht and Valkenburg aan de Geul – as well as the regional safety authority had concluded it was not feasible to hold them under the new measures, which forbid spectators from attending sports fixtures.
Race director Leo van Vliet said: “The past few months have been very intense. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the organisation of the Amstel Gold Race very complex.
“We have been working on a corona-proof Amstel Gold Race for a long time where we could keep the course intact.
“In recent weeks it has become increasingly clear that a route through South Limburg, with passages in ten municipalities, was unfeasible.
“That is why we have worked carefully on a new plan with a smaller circuit of 16.9 kilometres.
“The course and the area around it would be hermetically sealed to the public to prevent crowds and to guarantee a 1.5-metre distance.
“On Monday we were fully prepared to announce this to the world, but the new measures announced by the cabinet later that evening meant that the plans had to be revised again.
“With the condition of ‘no public’, this was an almost impossible task.
“From Tuesday morning we consulted with representatives of regional safety and the municipalities.
“In their final assessment, the mayors established the impossibility of guaranteeing no public.
“Of course, we cannot help but respect this assessment, however much we regret it. It doesn’t stop us from returning next year with a fantastic race,” he added.
Jan Schrijen , Mayor of Valkenburg aan de Geul, said on behalf of the three municipalities involved: “Until Monday, we were 95 per cent convinced that the Amstel Gold Race could continue with a closed course.
“Due to the new measure, sports events can only take place without an audience.
“The three municipalities and the regional safety authority have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to organise the Amstel Gold Race, even on a closed course, without spectators.
“Residents and holidaymakers staying in the region can clear not be denied access. And that means there is no guarantee that the course will be public-free.
“It is very unpleasant for the organisation, which, together with the municipalities and the regional safety authority, has done everything to ensure that the Amstel Gold Race takes place in a safe manner.”
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.