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France’s heightened COVID-19 restrictions could threaten Paris-Roubaix

2020 edition depends on the upcoming meeting with French prefecture authorities.

As the dust settles from the recent Tour de France, race organizers are satisfied and relieved to have brought the world’s biggest bicycle race back to Paris. But they are also worried about upcoming races—especially Paris-Roubaix. For while the Tour de France made its annual loop around the country, the coronavirus crisis only worsened in France, as the country continues to record daily highs in the number of new cases.

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The French government this week announced new decrees, placing curfews on bars and limiting social gatherings. And Paris-Roubaix could be one of its next victims as the race is held in the north of France and travels through many high-risk areas.

According to the new government measure announced on September 23, bars will close at 10 p.m., organized public events are canceled, gyms and workout centers will be closed and groups of more than 10 are prohibited in public parks. And while such measures principally affect major French cities, Paris-Roubaix starts outside of Paris in Compiegne, while Roubaix is in the shadows of the northern city of Lille.

Nils Politt at the 2019 Paris-Roubaix. Photo: James Startt

And as the government increases restrictions it will be increasingly difficult for race organizers to hold the great cobblestone classic as most large-scale public events are being canceled.

Tour de France race director Thierry Gouvenou admits that the declining health situation is significantly complicating matters for Paris-Roubaix, scheduled on October 25. “For the moment we have to follow the instructions of the state,” Gouvenou told VeloNews on Friday. “We have a meeting with the Prefecture next week and we will know more. But the situation is not getting better.”

Gouvenou says that A.S.O. will propose a series of measures as they did for the Tour. And perhaps their track record from the Tour—one that is seen largely as successful—will convince authorities to make an exception for Roubaix. But he admits that nothing is a given.

“At best, Paris-Roubaix will be run like the Tour de France, with different bubbles.” But Gouvenou admits that the Tour de France model is a best-case scenario, and while he does not want to jump to conclusions, he admits that the race could well be canceled outright.

Yves Lampaert on the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector at the 2019 Paris-Roubaix. Photo: James Startt

“We will propose a series of measures,” he says. “And it is certain that the Roubaix velodrome will not be packed with people. That’s just not going to happen this year. But we have to be flexible in this business. We have to adapt.”

But while the running of Roubaix this year could well be called into question, Gouvenou holds out hope, at least until the upcoming meeting with French authorities.