Organisers of the Tour de France are insisting that there will be no postponement of this year’s 107th edition of the race due to the coronavirus pandemic, reports Le Parisien. However, the ongoing crisis in Europe and elsewhere appears to make that a forlorn hope.
The race is due to start in Nice on 27 June and conclude in Paris three weeks later on 19 July, moved a week ahead of its usual slot in the calendar due to the Tokyo Olympic Games.
With 860 deaths in France to date – another 186 confirmed today – there is every likelihood of the current two-week lockdown being extended by President Macron.
However, according to Le Parisien, ASO is determined that the race will go ahead on the scheduled dates, even if that means having no fans by the roadside.
The country’s sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said today she was supportive of the Tour de France going ahead as planned, as well as the Olympic Games, although pressure is mounting on the International Olympic Committee and the local organisers to postpone Tokyo 2020.
“We are in touch with ASO,” Maracineanu said. “It is of paramount importance that these events can be held.”
There is no official word from ASO as yet, but according to several teams, the line the organisers are taking is that the race should go ahead, with cancellation not an option.
One idea is to run it as the final stages of Paris-Nice earlier this month were (ahead of the final day being cancelled), with no spectators at the start or finish.
Another idea reportedly being considered is to dispense with the traditional publicity caravan, which brings spectators, many not interested in the cycling itself, flocking to the roadside in hope of bagging some free merchandise.
Emmanuel Hubert, manager of French team Arkéa-Samsic, said: “Frankly, we have not received any feedback yet. It is too early to decide. It is still very far [away].”
With the Tour de France being far and away the most-watched event in the sport, there are fears among teams that cancellation of the event this summer could lead to the collapse of what is already for many a fragile business model.
Patrick Lefevere, manager of Deceuninck-Quick Step, warned over the weekend of an exodus of sponsors from the sport should the three-week opportunity to get their names out in front of the public not happen, a view supported by EF Pro Cycling’s Jonathan Vaughters.
And with the entire Spring racing programme cancelled and many riders unable to train outside due to emergency legislation in force in countries including France, Italy, Spain and now Germany, there is also the question of whether riders will be in a fit condition to tackle the race should it go ahead.
Five-time winner Bernard Hinault, however, saw the lack of condition of riders as not being an issue, since everyone would be in the same boat, saying in recent days: “We will just have a Tour de France that will go slower, that’s all.”
Throughout the coronavirus crisis, race organisers whether in France, Italy or elsewhere have shown themselves to be over-optimistic about the possibility of their events continuing, and cancellations have taken place either reluctantly or due to national legislation forbidding sporting events.
Even if France were to return to some semblance of normality by June, it is likely that the country’s health services would still be swamped with patients suffering from the virus, meaning that staging a race in which invariably a number of riders need emergency treatment would be out of the question.
One final consideration. Riders from 30 different countries participated in last year’s race, won by the Colombian Egan Bernal of Team Ineos.
While not all of those riders will have returned to their home countries – many are based elsewhere either for training or tax purposes, or both – each country will have its own measures in place to fight the current crisis, including potentially closing borders, both to arrivals and departures.
It is also entirely possible that come June, there may be quarantine restrictions for any0ne coming into France – and two of the biggest foreign contingents at the Tour de France last year, behind only the host country and Belgium, were from Italy and Spain, the two European nations hardest hit by coronavirus so far.
At last year’s Tour de France, there were 34 home riders, all bar Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step and Trek-Segafredo’s Julien Bernard riding for one of the French teams – AF2R-La Mondiale, Arkéa-Samsic, Cofidis, Groupama-FDJ and Total Direct Energie.
Each of those would be able to field a team comprising exclusively French riders. In what seems to be an increasingly unlikely scenario that the race might go ahead in some form, could this be the year for the long-awaited first home win since Hinault’s fifth and final victory 35 years ago?
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.