Only a day after the Tour de France officially announced that it would postpone the start of the race by two months, race director Christian Prudhomme explains the many challenges and considerations that resulted in this unprecedented move resulting from the coronavirus crisis.
Earlier in the week, French President Emmanual Macron announced new protective measures against the spread of COVID-19 that included no public gatherings until mid-July, essentially thwarting any hope that the Tour would start as scheduled on June 27.
But the race organizers had already been preparing a Plan B.
“I started calling the different host towns the day after we started confinement [on March 18],” Prudhomme explained as he considered new Tour dates. “All of the towns told me ‘Yes’,” and most of them even said ‘That’s good news !’ The mayor of Poitiers said, ‘We will be ready and it will be a huge boost,’ while the mayor of Bourg-en-Bresse said, ‘The Tour will always be the Tour. We will adapt.’ From Nice to Paris, everyone followed.”
Initially several dates were considered, and it was long thought that the race organizers would simply push the race back one month. But Prudhomme finally opted for an even later start date, two months later, starting on August 29 and finishing on September 20.
“We really wanted to put as much space as possible between the pandemic,” he explained. “The President of the Republic said that no public gathering would take place until July 14 and it seemed to us that it would be wise to put as much space between the race and the pandemic so that the riders had the best opportunity to have the condition needed.”
Prudhomme also added that considering the length of the break in the racing calendar, riders would need even more time to return to peak condition.
He admitted that the late Tour start means that the country will no longer be on summer holiday—something that has been a continual catalyst for the event’s immense popularity—and that the iconic publicity caravan could well be smaller due to the economic crisis that the coronavirus has ignited. But he is confident that what might at face value appear to be quieter, gentler Tour will still be met with great success.
“This will not be a cheap Tour,” Prudhomme insists, adding, that save some very minor changes, the entire 2020 race route will remain intact. “The spirit of the Tour will be the same. The grand difficulties will be the same.”
Obviously even a late start depends on the coronavirus sufficiently subsiding, but Prudhomme is, at least for now, relieved to be able to confirm a 2020 Tour. “We really saw recently that the entire world of cycling had one hope—that the Tour would exist. Everybody needed the Tour de France to announce its dates. They will be more serene now.”