Tour de France organisers ASO are reportedly considering delaying the start of the race by four weeks, with plans for the opening stage in Nice to begin on 25 July, reports French newspaper Le Parisien.
Currently, the Grand Depart of the 107th edition of the three-week race remains fixed for 25 June in the Cote d’Azur city.
It has looked unlikely for some time now that the world’s biggest annual sporting event will be able to start on that date, however.
Currently, the UCI has suspended all racing up until 1 June, a little more than three weeks before the race is due to begin.
With individual countries – including France – in a state of lockdown as a result of the coronavirus with little clarity on when restrictions might be lifted, expectations are that the race inevitably have to be postponed.
By pushing the start of the race back by four weeks, it would fall more or less into the slot on the sporting calendar vacated by the Tokyo Olympic Games, which have now been postponed until next year.
Le Parisien reports that ASO has been in touch with the mayors of a number of start and finish towns on the route to sound out opinion over a potential change of date, which would see the race finish in Paris on 16 August.
Logistically, the Tour de France and the huge circus that accompanies it, would require hotels in or near towns and cities hosting stages to be blocked-booked many months in advance to house riders and team staff, as well as race personnel.
In any other year, trying to move the race back by a month at this stage would simply be impossible.
But while August may be the peak of the French holiday season, local councils reportedly expect that even if lockdown restrictions are lifted well ahead of then, there will be ample accommodation for the race.
Michel Villa, the mayor of Privas, the town where Stage 5 is due to finish on 1 July and which in common with others hosting stage starts or finishes will have had to pay between €80,000 and €100,000 for the privilege, told the Spanish news agency Efe that a delay of four weeks would not cause undue problems.
“It is not a problem for us to delay by a month if the health context is favourable by then,” said Villa whose town, the capital of the Ardèche department and located around 100km north of Avignon, is due to host the race for the first time.
“We can maintain the planned logistics. 1 July was perfect because it allowed us to launch the tourist season, but this year everything will be delayed, and I don't think the hotels are full in August,” he added.
ASO itself remains tight-lipped on any contingency plans for the race, but director Christian Prudhomme is opposed to holding it behind closed doors, as has been suggested by France’s sports minister.
Instead, the company has said that it plans to make a decision on whether or not to postpone the race by 15 May – although any further extension of the UCI’s ban on racing in the intervening time could take the issue out of its hands.
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.