Can the Tour de France be saved?
That’s according to a report in the French daily Le Parisien, which reported Monday that Tour officials from the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) are in contact with high-level French government authorities to study ways to hold the “grande boucle” during its scheduled dates from June 27-July 19.
“We are in contact with ASO,” said France’s sports minister Roxana Maracineanu on Monday on France Inter radio. “It is of paramount importance that these events can be held.”
Maracineanu’s comments are the first indication since the coronavirus has besieged major parts of Europe that the season’s most important stage race might be salvaged.
The coronavirus health crisis has put a freeze on racing across Europe until at least May, with the spring classics and Giro d’Italia shelved. Teams have sidelined their operations while many racers living in Italy, Spain, Andorra and France face lockdown conditions that limit or prevent them from training on open roads.
According to the report, French government officials and ASO are working behind the scenes to study ways to hold the race even as France is struggling to manage impacts of the outbreak right now. Maracineanu is the same French official who allowed Paris-Nice to be completed as scheduled earlier this month.
Le Parisien reports that ASO is considering a stripped-down version of the Tour, perhaps similar to how Paris-Nice was held this month. Although officials canceled the final stage in Nice, the stage race managed to run seven of its eight scheduled stages from the outskirts to Paris down to the Cote d’Azur by limiting fan access at the starts and finishes.
The idea would be to have a sports-centric race, and do away with much of the pomp and ceremony that typically accompanies the 21-stage race around France.
One option on the table is to hold the Tour de France without its popular publicity caravan and remove the “village départ” at every day’s start. Post-race protocols and fan access would also be restricted, and organizers would put in a place a series of measures to assure the health and safety of riders, staffers, and officials.
Even as the coronavirus crisis worsens in other parts of the world, Italy reported a drop in coronavirus deaths for the second day in a row. Health officials there are cautious, but it’s the first good news in weeks. Could the tide be turning in Europe?
“Frankly, we have not received any feedback yet,” said Emmanuel Hubert, the boss of the Arkéa-Samsic team.
“It is too early to decide. It is still very far.”
The possibility of holding the Tour — if conditions permit — would be a ray of light for the beleaguered European racing calendar. Over the weekend, Deceuninck-Quick-Step Patrick Lefevere raised alarm bells for team’s future solvency if the Tour is canceled.