Thomas De Gendt has spoken of his confidence that racing the Tour de France will not pose a health risk, and gone on to emphasize the importance of the race to both his Lotto-Soudal team and long-term career.
“Brailsford has a wealthy sponsor, who seems to be little affected by this crisis and can afford a possible lump sum,” De Gendt told Het Laaste Nieuws. “Lotto and Soudal still want to be put in the picture. And I’m pushing for a new contract myself. So we need to show what we can do this year.”
Lotto-Soudal was one of the first WorldTour teams to respond to lost revenues from the coronavirus racing stop, with riders voluntarily reducing pay in a show of solidarity with sponsors and unemployed staffers. A swathe of other top-tier teams followed hot on their heels in cutting salaries, with EF Pro Cycling, Mitchelton-Scott, and CCC-Team among those making the move. For many of the teams facing financial difficulty, the Tour de France represents a life raft, pulling huge monies into the sport from television rights and sponsor investments.
De Gendt raced at Paris-Nice before the coronavirus pandemic put a total halt on the first half of the racing year. The 33-year-old cited the March race as an example of how public concerns over personal health could mitigate the risk for riders at this summer’s Tour.
“I expect at most half of the normal number of people who visit the Tour,” De Gendt said. “You already saw it in Paris-Nice, at the start of the pandemic. There was no pressure [from crowds] that we are used to on the course.”
“Many will keep their distance on their own initiative,” he said. “Not standing up to half a million, but rather in groups, more spread out over the course. Some may just stay at home — for fear.”
CCC-Team rider Serge Pauwels, also speaking on Het Laaste Nieuws Monday, did go on to cite one source of potential danger — the summits of iconic cols, which can draw masses of fans crowding around riders as they climb. “Certainly on the large, well-known cols they will have to limit the size of the human sea,” he said.
Deceuninck-Quick Step Sport Director Tom Steels also reinforced that after months of lockdown, fans from around the globe are likely to be more cautious than they were in the past. “Don’t underestimate it,” he said. “People have taken a different view of how to behave in groups.”
Steels acknowledged that there was a burden of responsibility on Tour organizers ASO, teams and riders as much as the fans when ensuring the safety of the race.
“We trust the precautions that the organization will take,” he said. “We, as a team, will do the same. Just like the riders in the peloton: Blowing, spitting … it will be severely reprimanded. That’s the way it is supposed to be. If everyone uses their common sense, there is no problem. ”