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French sports minister insists it’s ‘too early to decide’ about Tour de France

French minister not making a call on the Tour yet, but sees model of funding from television rights rather than ticket sales as a point in its favor.

With the Tokyo Olympics officially canceled for 2020, only two major sporting events officially remain on the international sports calendar this coming summer: the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament and the Tour de France.

But while organizers of the historic tennis tournament are meeting to decide the fate of their event in 2020, Tour de France organizers, as well as the French government, are decidedly less rushed.

“It is still too early to decide,” French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said on the news network France Bleu Wednesday evening. “We are studying every scenario and are working with A.S.O.”

“The Tour is a sports monument,” she added. “It is too early to decide. There is a time for everything. Right now we have another more urgent battle to fight. Let’s focus on that mountain first and look at other things later.”

After news that the Olympics were canceled, many thought the Tour would be the next to fall. But while certain voices consider it premature, others see the Tour de France as a way to save the season.

“The Tour is not the Olympics,” Frenchman Romain Bardet told VeloNews earlier this week, after learning about the Olympics. “It is only my own opinion, but it seems as though the Tour is more containable. I really don’t know, but it seems more possible. If France is not too heavily impacted, [then] perhaps the Tour could still happen. Perhaps employing some of the measures that we put in place at Paris-Nice is possible. From a sporting level, the Tour now is the only thing we could [possibly] construct a season around. It would be great if it could happen. But it is still way too early to project on that, and I am not really in a position to say.”

Maracineanu agrees that in many ways the Tour is more manageable, and the fact that the event is not organized in an enclosed arena but on open roads argues in its favor. In addition, the Tour does not rely on ticket sales, so even if fans are prohibited from congregating along the roadside, from an economic standpoint it could be more feasible.

“The economic model is not based on tickets but on television rights,” explains Maracineanu. “In this period of confinement, everybody understands the need to stay at home and to watch televised events rather than going to them. Finally, it might not be so penalizing to stay at home and watch the Tour.”

The fact that the Tour is funded by TV rights rather than ticket sales may prove advantageous. Photo: James Start

Certainly fans would be prohibited from actually coming to the Tour and the hugely popular feat that it represents each year would be put on hold. But the potential of a three-week televised event would give sports fans around the world something to look forward to, and it would be a boon for the Tour itself, since it would have virtually no competition with other sporting events.

And of course, it would give the professional cycling teams a real sense of focus. Simply having the Tour could save numerous sponsorships, which could soon be called into question if there is no racing. And it would give the riders a sense of focus, with a clear objective in the foreseeable future.

“If by chance the Tour is the first competition after this obligatory pause it would be really great,” Belgian cyclist Thomas DeGendt told WielerFlits, Thursday. “If nobody has had any competition before, we will all be on the same level. Perhaps you will need to shorten some of the stages in the opening week so that the return is not too sudden, but everyone will be motivated.”

Meanwhile, the pro cycling calendar’s other two grand tours are also grappling with the impact to their respective events.

The Giro d’Italia has already been postponed from its May date on the calendar. Race organizers RCS Sport are working to redesign the route to stay within the borders of Italy, and hope to be able to contest perhaps even a shortened version of the race later in the season.

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games until 2021 will open up some space on the racing calendar if and when competition can resume.

So far, the UCI said it is working to restructure the calendar, giving priority to races that are already scheduled later, and after that, the grand tours and one-day monuments. Some races have already said they will not try to reschedule their events for 2020, while others, such as Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo, and the northern classics, still hope to be contested in the fall of 2020.

Officials from the Vuelta a España (August 14 – September 6) said they are currently planning on running the Spanish grand tour on its scheduled dates if authorities lift Spain’s lockdown by later this summer.

“We are looking forward to the end of the lockdown to make the best Vuelta in history,” Vuelta director Javier Guillén told EFE. “We’re facing a situation without precedent, but everyone at the Vuelta is working with the idea that the Vuelta will be raced.”