Road

BinckBank Tour saves canceled stages with Belgian re-routing

Race finds new host towns and all-Belgian parcours just 24 hours after COVID regulations in Netherlands forced cancelation of Dutch stages.

Only 24 hours after the BinckBank Tour was forced to cancel three stages due to pass into the Netherlands due to stringent new health measures, the organizers of the race have salvaged two stages and saved the race from disaster.

BinckBank officials confirmed Wednesday night that alternative race routes have been found for what will now be stage 2, Thursday, and stage 3, Friday, after new Belgian host towns were found at the last hour.

After being forced to take a rest day rather than race the planned stage 2 time trial in the Netherlands on Wednesday, racing will resume with a new re-routed stage Thursday that will both start and finish in Aalter, the town originally scheduled to only host the finish of the day’s racing. The all-Belgian loop will no longer start in the Dutch Zeeland region.

New health restrictions were introduced in the Netherlands on Monday in response to a rise in coronavirus cases in the country. The strict new measures limit the size of public gatherings and ban spectators at sporting or cultural events, so forcing the BinckBank tour to shutter its Dutch stages.

The race’s solution of staying entirely on Belgian soil may sound simple but was likely far from straightforward to pull off at such short notice.

“We are working together with [BinckBank owners] Golazo in organizing a major cycling race for the seventh time this year,” said Dirk De Smul, alderman of Aalter. “We love road racing here in Aalter. That is why we were able to immediately throw our weight behind the proposal of starting here tomorrow too and to ride the entire stage on our territory.”

Shortly after the rapid shift in fortune for Thursday’s stage, BinckBank chiefs also pulled a day of racing out of the hat for Friday. Rather than the planned road stage into Dutch town Sittard, the tour’s penultimate day of racing will see an 8.1km time trial in Riemst, the originally-planned host town for the start of Friday’s long 195km stage into the Netherlands.

Much like the rapid salvaging of Thursday’s stage in Aalter, the new solution for what will now be stage 3 Friday is a result of long-standing relationships with host towns and the willingness of cycling-mad Belgian authorities to be adaptable.

“We are extremely delighted to help out the BinckBank Tour in their time of need,” said Mark Vos, mayor of Riemst. “We have been working together splendidly for nine years, which makes it easy to make an extra effort. Logistically speaking this is quite a feat, but it will make it all the more sweet if we can pull this off successfully. Everybody’s a winner.”

The five-day WorldTour race had only got started Tuesday, and with the possibility of cancelation of three stages, was in a dire situation. The rapid replanning comes just days after the successful running of the Imola world championships, which was similarly forced to relocate at late notice when the originally-planned Swiss venue had to cancel due to COVID regulations.

Amstel Gold Race will be unlikely to find such a solution, however. The hilly classic, initially due to run October 10, was forced to cancel earlier this week and has a route historically centered in the Dutch Ardennes.

“Thanks to the help of both Aalter and Riemst, we have managed to allow the BinckBank Tour to continue and all of that in a little over half a day,” said race spokesman Gert Van Goolen. “From tomorrow afternoon, the riders can go for it for another three days and are presented with just as many different stages.”

The BinckBank Tour will come to a close as originally planned with a tough classics-style stage into Geraardsbergen on Saturday.