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PARIS, April 14, 2020 – According to two major French newspapers the Tour de France organizer will announce new race dates on Wednesday, and will confirm a start on August 29 in Nice, and finish in Paris on September 20.
The new Tour dates, however, will be in direct conflict with the Vuelta a España (August 14 to September 6), one of the other three grand tours, and it is not yet known how the Spanish race will be affected. But we may learn soon, as the Tour de France is part owner of the Vuelta as well.
In an address to the nation on Monday night, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the country would remain in confinement until May 11, and no large public gatherings would be permitted until at least mid-July, hence eliminating any hope that the Tour could start as planned on June 27.
Well before the news was made official, race organizers had been pursuing an alternative solution. A report in the Dauphine Libéré newspaper, and confirmed by Le Parisien on Tuesday, confirmed the new dates.
Organisers ASO were unavailable for comment to confirm the new dates, but several mayors of the French towns along the planned route say they have been consulted regarding the new dates. And while there was initial speculation about a Tour start in late July, the race organizers are said to have preferred late August.
Tour general director Christian Prudhomme has said riders will need two months to prepare for the race, after the lockdown ends.
France’s Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner said on Tuesday that ASO had to reschedule or cancel the Tour. “It is up to the organizer to analyze their ability to organize it and reschedule it,” Castaner told French radio.
The late August date allows firstly more time for the government to have a better sense of the evolution of the virus, and it offers advantages to the organizers as well as hotels in France will be much less crowded in late summer.
The race’s route is over 3,000 kilometers long, with roughly 500,000 fans lining the roads each day.
“Social distancing on the roadside wouldn’t be a problem — but in the start towns, at the finish line, and in the VIP tents it certainly would,” Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst told Flemish TV channel Sporza on Saturday.
Suggestions the Tour could be held without supporters have been ruled out. “The Tour de France is 3,000km of smiles,” Prudhomme said regarding roadside gatherings. “We won’t run a Tour de France without the fans.” Nevertheless, a late August date means that many families will already be preparing for a return to school, something that will naturally curb attendance, something that is favorable in an era of social distancing.
ASO also organizes the Criterium du Dauphine eight-day race, and had been hoping to run that ride through the Alps in late June or early July, but the traditional Tour warm-up has been postponed.
The “Grande Boucle”, as the Tour is known in France, is the central economic pillar which supports the sports’ 22 professional teams. “It’s as simple as this. If the Tour does not take place, teams could disappear, riders and staff alike would find themselves unemployed,” said Marc Madiot, the chief of French team Groupama-FDJ.
The riders are also keen to race, with 2018 winner Geraint Thomas saying he was desperate for the Tour to go ahead.”There are bigger and more important things to sort out first, but as soon as it’s safe and ready to go, we (Ineos) would love it to happen,” said the Welsh rider.