While many partners in professional cycling seem obsessed about new Tour de France dates in 2020, five-time winner Bernard Hinault, has been consistently cautious and at times overtly critical of those pushing for new calendar dates. “Could they stop thinking about themselves!” he exclaimed in an interview with the French daily Ouest France, reacting to riders and teams that were pushing for news of new dates for the Tour earlier this month. “You can’t forbid the cancellation of the Tour de France,” he told another national daily, Le Parisien. “There is a crazy sickness that is spreading and is going to last for a couple of months. You shouldn’t hesitate to cancel the Tour if needed.”
While Hinault was pleased to learn that the Tour was rescheduled to start on August 29 and run through September 20, he remains cautiously optimistic, at best.
“The first thing we need to know is if COVID-19 has really been stopped,” he told VeloNews earlier this week. “If that is the case then I don’t see why you can’t ride bikes. But you have to be very careful because, if ever the sickness is not over, if it hasn’t subsided, well that (i.e. the Tour de France) would be the perfect opportunity for it to start up again.”
“There are still going to be a lot of people that come out to see the Tour, even though the dates have changed,” he continued. “There are going to be a lot of people who could not get out all summer long, and will be really eager to be there. Vacations may be over. Kids may be back in school. People may be back at work. But on the weekends, the roads will still be packed.”
Some still push for a privatized Tour without fans, and French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu reiterated this week that if the Tour de France is in fact held, it could well be “behind closed doors,” Hinault remains skeptical. “A privatized Tour de France is just impossible. Even if there were no spectators, between the riders, the staff, the race organization, the press, there will still be at least 2,000 people at the race, cross paths every day, for 21 days. And how can you tell people not to stand at the side of the road when there is a pack of 200 cyclists riding next to each other?”
While the International Cycling Union has confirmed certain dates, like the Tour de France and the world championships, the Belgian news outlet RTBF reported on Wednesday that Italian classics like the Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo could kick off the updated World Tour calendar on August 1, and August 8, followed by a shortened version of Le Critérium du Dauphine, a key warm-up race to the Tour.
But Hinault, who worked for the Tour for decades after retiring in 1986, remains cautious. He is clearly still a huge fan of the sport. “Sports are fabulous. The Tour de France is a fantastic party,” he said in the interview with Le Parisien. “But it is below the value of life. We are talking about a risk between life and death.”
From a sporting perspective, he insists that a September running of the Tour will be just as competitive as its traditional dates in July. “There is no reason for it to be any less competitive,” he says. “But the sanitary questions are by far the most important. We would need to know at least a month before the start of the Tour that the pandemic is finished. If you have to cancel the Tour de France then cancel it.”