Road

Dutch stages in Binckbank Tour canceled due to health restrictions

Amstel Gold Race also in crosshairs after spike in COVID-19 cases in Europe puts scare into race organizers.

The peloton sat idle Wednesday after race organizers were forced to cancel three stages of the Binckbank Tour that cross into Dutch territory.

Wednesday’s 10.9km individual time trial in Vlissingen that was meant to be the second stage of the WorldTour race was not held due to a final-hour decision overnight Tuesday by local authorities due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. The week-long stage race typically straddles the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands.

Race officials were notified Tuesday evening around 10 p.m. following the first stage that several Dutch cities pulled out of commitments where the race route started or finished in the coming three days. That decision came in the wake of new and more stringent health measures that were introduced across the Netherlands on Monday.

The new restrictions could also threaten the Amstel Gold Race, set for October 10 in the Limburg region of the Netherlands. A decision could come as soon as Wednesday in what is a busy week of racing across Europe.

Organizers are working on alternatives for Thursday’s and Friday’s stages that also started or finished in Dutch territory, and officials said they hope to have new routes inside Belgium in place to resume racing Thursday.

“It goes without saying that we are extremely disappointed with the decision that has been taken, especially in view of the timing,” said race organizer Gert Van Goolen. “We are convinced that we had found a safe and responsible solution for organizing a good BinckBank Tour, but sadly this fell on deaf ears.”

Organizers had already planned to conduct the race “behind closed doors” without fans at the starts and finishes in Dutch territory, but late Tuesday, local government officials forced organizers to cancel the stages due to new health restrictions introduced in the Netherlands this week.

New restrictions include limiting the size of gatherings in public, and a ban spectators at all sporting or cultural events. Race officials had already planned on holding the race without fans at either the starts or finishes, and encouraged fans to watch the race on TV rather than gather at the side of the road.

Organizers are working to quickly find alternative routes for Thursday’s and Friday’s stage, while Saturday’s final stage from Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve to Geraardsbergen will be held as scheduled.

“Due to the short notice, it is impossible to work out an alternative (including the necessary permits), so there is no other option but to make Wednesday a rest day,” a press release stated. “The riders will not start in Philippine on Thursday, and we cannot ride to Dutch Limburg on Friday or finish in Sittard-Geleen, but alternatives are being developed with great urgency.”

The stage cancelation Wednesday is the first major disruption of a race since WorldTour racing resumed in August. A series of one-day races and smaller stage races, the Tour de France and the world championships all were contested in August going into September, albeit with health restrictions and in some cases without fans due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising across Europe, however, there are several upcoming races that could be impacted.

Organizers of Paris-Roubaix told VeloNews last week that there is no guarantee that the cobblestoned monument, set for October 25 to include a first-ever women’s edition, will be organized due to worsening health conditions.

The Giro d’Italia starts Saturday, and the Vuelta a España is scheduled to run October 20 to November 8. Officials from both races insist they are planning to run their respective races, with similar restrictions and limitations that were successfully deployed during the Tour.