Racing “behind closed doors” will take on a whole new meaning at the 2020 Vuelta a España.
Not only is the Spanish grand tour organizing the season’s final race with what it describes as “extreme” health measures, it’s literally begging fans to not come to the race.
Facing a worsening health situation across Spain, Vuelt organizers will ban fans from lining some of the 2020 route’s most emblematic climbs, including the Col du Tourmalet and Alto de l’Angliru, as well as at select starts and finishes.
Now the race is asking fans to stay at home, and watch the race on TV.
“If you like cycling, stay at home,” a TV ad says. “We need you on the other side of the screen. In 2020, enjoy the Vuelta from home.”
The TV ad campaign, which began this week on Spanish television just days ahead of Tuesday’s start in Irún, reveals how race organizers are hoping to thread the needle as the number of COVID-19 cases across Spain is spiking.
Parts of Madrid and other cities in Spain are under travel restrictions as the national government tries to clamp down on what many believe is a second wave of coronavirus spreading across the nation.
Against that backdrop, the Vuelta is promising even stricter health and safety restrictions than any race so far in the truncated 2020 racing season.
Vuelta director Javier Guillén told Spanish radio that a series of new health measures will be rolled out to try to create as safe as possible of an environment for racers and teams that will be arriving in Spain in the coming days.
“The Vuelta will be the race with more health mitigation than any race of the season,” Guillén said. “The public is the soul of the sport, and they won’t like [access restrictions], but I have to appeal to all the fans to stay home.”
Guillén said they’ve been working closely with Spanish health authorities, and will roll out the strictest crowd control measures of any race so far in 2020 with the hopes of being able to see the season’s final grand tour to its end on November 8.
Like the Tour de France, the Vuelta will operate its own mobile lab to be able to do faster COVID-19 controls for anyone inside the race bubble. Similar to other races, riders and staffers will undergo a battery of controls before Tuesday’ start, and then see daily health controls to try to detect anyone with symptoms as early as possible.
The race has also contracted 40 private security guards to help Spanish police limit access to the mountain passes as well as discourage people from attending starts and finishes. Additionally, the Vuelta announced it will not run its publicity caravan nor operate a finish-line expo tent area for 2020.
On Friday, the Vuelta confirmed it will be using a facial recognition software instead of having riders physically sign-in before each stage in what’s one more step to try to keep a lid on COVID-19 for a few more weeks.
With many fearing the situation is unraveling at the Giro d’Italia, where two teams have left the race, including pre-race favorites Simon Yates and Steven Kruijswijk, officials in Spain are sending a loud and clear message to Vuelta fans — stay home.
A series of TV ads as well as promotions on social media are asking fans to not come to the race, and instead follow the race on TV.
“This year, we have to ask you a favor, a favor that we never would have hoped to have asked,” the ad reads. “If you really like cycling, we cannot see you on the mountain passes, not at the start or the finish line, and not even alongside the road.
“We won’t be able to enjoy your cheers, your applause, your encouragement. If you like cycling, take care of your family, take care of yourself. Stay at home.”
It’s an unprecedented message for unprecedented times.