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Mitchelton-Scott’s Matt White on Tour de France: ‘Safety has to be priority’

The team's director-sportif says a stripped-down Tour wouldn't be so bad, but questioned if coronavirus crisis would permit it.

Nearly everyone in professional cycling would like to see the Tour de France this summer. The big question is will it be feasible in light of lockdowns across Europe.

Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White said Tuesday he supports holding the Tour, but only if and when it is deemed safe by health authorities.

“Safety has to remain the priority,” White said. “The team and all teams support what is best for the general population. I am pretty sure by the month of July things might have calmed down a considerable amount, but will they have calmed down enough to safely support a couple of thousand people, coming together from different parts of Europe and the world, for the Tour de France?

“We’re not talking about four or five venues, we are a traveling circus,” he said in a press statement. “We’re talking about 2,000 people; teams, media, logistics and movement between 20 hotels over 25 days.”

White’s comments come as the Tour de France is under the microscope. With racing off through May, many inside the men’s peloton are hopeful the Tour could be held in some form later this season. There is some discussion the Tour could be raced without the general public, but there are other questions about travel restrictions, health and safety for the race caravan, and if the coronavirus crisis has eased enough to even consider holding the Tour.

White said it’s important that riders be able to race before the Tour would begin. Much of Mitchelton-Scott’s team resides in Spain and Andorra, where there’s been nearly three weeks of lockdown, and riders have not been able to ride outside.

“We have to have some competition before the Tour de France. You can’t have the Tour de France as the first race. That doesn’t work for the riders, simple as that,” White said. “By May, I think we’re going to have to see the virus nearly out in most of Europe for ASO to consider it running on the dates that it is currently set for. By then, you hope athletes are also on the road. If athletes aren’t on the road by May, there’s no way you can run competition in June.”

As the situation is now, with Spain and Italy seeing a growing number of fatalities, White said it’s hard to imagine the Tour starting as planned in late June.

“The next four to five weeks is crucial, that the virus infections come down to a very low level in Europe,” he continued. “At the moment we’re not seeing that, and I would think that as it stands at the moment, it would be pretty hard to run the Tour de France at the current dates starting at the end of June.

“But now with the Olympics off the cards, it does leave a window for later in July and even early August,” he said. “Maybe that’s the most viable option to run the Tour de France in full, and I’m sure that’s what the ASO want to do – they want to run a three-week Tour de France.”

And what about the idea of a stripped-down Tour? White said it wouldn’t be the first time a race is held with little or no public.

“The Tour de France without crowds would be weird,” he said. “But a lot of our early season races and smaller races don’t have big crowds. It would feel strange for the riders, to be competing at our showcase event with minimal people, but it would work.

“Even if there was only the 2000 people travelling, it would be a positive for the French economy, and obviously the TV audience would be huge because people are looking for things to watch and once sport does recommence, I am sure it would rate highly.

“It’s viable and we could do it, but the bigger question is how do we move that circus around France in a safe way. At the end of the day it has to be safe for the French public, safe for everyone in that traveling group and achievable for the French resources.”

“If the Tour de France does go ahead in full, it’ll be the best field ever,” he said. “I think in the best case scenario, there will be a lot of guys hitting the Tour de France with 20 race days under their belt, some will be even less, and that’s if Suisse and Dauphine run beforehand.

“It’s going to be strange, but it would be a very competitive race.”