The northern classics are back on their traditional dates on the 2021 calendar. What won’t be back are the rowdy fans and raucous beer tents.
Race officials from Flanders Classics, organizers of most of the big Belgian one-day races, confirmed to Belgian media that next year’s events will likely be held “behind closed doors.”
“It’s not great, but the most important thing is that there is a race,” Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel told De Morgen.
Van Den Spiegel said the race organizer is already making contingency plans for its fleet of races in 2021 to be contested under strict safety measures, with the likelihood that no fans will be allowed to attend the races in person.
“There will be no fans,” Van Den Spiegel said. “This is how we will be working throughout the spring classics.”
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is far from over, and its impacts are already reaching into 2021.
Despite uncertainty, race organizers and UCI officials are moving forward with a traditional racing calendar. Cycling’s “bubble” concept will be applied throughout the coming season, with teams, staffers, and other key officials undergoing a battery of COVID-19 controls.
A few key dates on the 2021 international calendar have already been canceled, including the Santos Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Australia. In contrast, early-season races in Spain and France are expected to see a boom as teams and riders will likely stay in Europe in January and February rather than risk traveling internationally.
Flanders Classics, which organizes men’s and women’s events from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in late February through Brabantse Pijl through mid-April, said the most important step in 2021 is to hold the races even if that means no fans will be allowed to line the bergs or attend the popular VIP party tents along the route.
“Of course, I would rather see Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel drive up the Oude Kwaremont side by side through a sea of people,” Van Den Spiegel said. “Unfortunately, that will not be the case in 2021 either.”
In 2020, Flanders Classics did manage to reschedule its marquee races as part of the UCI’s improvised racing calendar after the pandemic shut down Europe just weeks ahead of the spring classics. French officials ended up canceling the rescheduled Paris-Roubaix in late October, but the Tour of Flanders was contested with fans being told to stay home.
Van Den Spiegel said race organizers and local officials will work together to keep the public at bay at the popular races in 2021.
He added that organizers did not consider adopting the revised 2020 fall dates going forward, and hinted that if things do not improve by 2022, running races in the future without fans or the lucrative VIP tents that help underwrite costs of the race might not be sustainable.
“It turned out that we can run these races without fans,” he said. “We never considered not holding these races next year. We can do it one more time, then after that, it’s not feasible.”
Flanders Classics in 2021
- Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, February 27
- Gent-Wevelgem, March 28
- Dwars door Vlaanderen, March 31
- Ronde van Vlaanderen, April 4
- Scheldeprijs, April 7
- Brabantse Pijl, April 14