Road

Experts raise warning over viability of Tour in pandemic conditions

Warnings of second wave of contagion lead professors to question whether any mitigation measures would be sufficient to hold Tour in fall.

There is a growing chorus of experts who are raising red flags over the prospect of contesting the Tour de France in its traditional model later this summer if coronavirus pandemic conditions persist.

Speaking to Belgian TV Sporza, experts expressed pessimism at the possibility of holding the Tour, rescheduled for August 29 to September 20, or other races going into the fall, at least in the way people are accustomed to seeing.

“It’s highly probable that there will be a second wave of contagion,” said Stefan D’Amelio, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Rome. “The hypothesis is there will be a second wave, though less severe, that will hit in September and October. Unfortunately, that would coincide with the Tour and Giro.”

Cycling officials have rewritten the cycling calendar, running from August until November, with hopes that racing can resume later this season if conditions improve.

Experts agree that mitigation measures such as social distancing, face masks, and shelter-at-home orders are inconsistent with the idea of a three-week, point-to-point stage race across highly impacted countries.

There are also questions about whether riders entering nations would be held in quarantine or if racing would produce dangerous conditions for riders, staffers, and fans.

“To be honest, it’s difficult to imagine measures that would be safe, especially considering the close contact of riders and the long time they’re in proximity during the Tour,” said Benjamin Cowie, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Melbourne.

“Quarantining riders would help, but it wouldn’t completely eliminate the risk,” Cowie said, adding that wearing masks during the race would be “something impossible in the sport. Unless the Tour is organized in a totally unrecognizable way, there will be high risks to race in August.”

So far, Tour de France officials have resisted the idea that the Tour would be contested without fans lining the road — “behind closed doors.” Experts said bringing together so many people to line the roads of the Alps or Pyrénées would not be ideal under pandemic conditions.

“We’ve all seen the images of people lining the climbs on the Izoard or the Tourmalet,” D’Amelio said. “Right now, that is something completely impossible.”