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Roundtable: Olympic cancelation, a Tour behind closed doors, a season re-shuffle

We pick over the major talking points arising from this week's news of the postponement of the Olympic Games and rumors of a bare-bones Tour de France. Let's roundtable!

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The 2020 calendar took another hit this week with the official postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the latest sporting fallout of the coronavirus pandemic after the cancelation of the entire spring calendar and the Giro d’Italia.

The pro cycling world is now left hanging its hopes on the Tour de France. The race is still scheduled to go ahead June 27, albeit possibly in a stripped-back format without roadside fans and the carnival that accompanies the race.

Where could the Olympics fit into the 2021 season?

What would the successful staging of the 2020 Tour de France mean to the cycling world?

And how might the season look if races are squeezed into the fall this year?

Let’s roundtable!

The cancelation of the Olympics seemed inevitable, so how will rescheduling Tokyo impact cyclists if a new date is not in the same window as 2020?

News came Tuesday that the Olympic Games were to be postponed by at most one year. Photo: Getty Images

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody):  The date of the Olympic rescheduling will create all kinds of headaches for the cycling calendar if it is not slotted back into its same window next July – August. Cycling’s entire season is hinged on what the Olympics does. The Tour de France and everything else on the men’s road calendar is built around the Olympic Games. There’s some talk of moving them to next spring, which would have a major impact on the northern classics. Having them later in the fall next year would see less impact, but the best fit for cycling would be to reschedule them on the same dates in 2021.

There’s also a question of how federations will readjust their qualification for the Games. Will they keep the same selection? Or open up qualification again? And what if there’s not much racing this year? All difficult questions in uncertain times. Postponing the Games was the best call, but it will be a gargantuan task to get everything realigned for 2021.

James Startt: It is really too early to tell. We have to see if they use the same dates as scheduled this year and if, in that case, the Tour can potentially move its dates up to correspond. The Tour was scheduled to start a week earlier this year for the Olympics while the Tour is already scheduled already a week later for 2021.

Jim (@jim_c_1985): I can’t see how the Olympics would fit anywhere else, but that post-Tour window. As James says, the 2021 Tour would need to be raced one week earlier than its typical dates, in the same way that it has shifted forward a week this year. Teams have already drawn up their methods of managing riders’ schedules with the Olympics in a post-Tour slot, and the easiest solution for them is to keep things as is.

Looking at the rest of the calendar for a different window, April through March is packed out with the classics, May has the Giro, and July has the Tour. The weeks before the Tour de France, in mid-June, is perhaps the only other alternative, but that will clash with Criterium du Dauphine and Tour de Suisse – the two key build-up races for the Tour. Having the Olympics clash with those races will cause some serious soul-searching and head-scratching for the Tour contenders suited to Tokyo’s hilly route – if the currently planned course still stands in 2021 that is.

Organizers are holding out hope that the Tour de France can be raced as scheduled. How important would it be for the sport if the Tour does happen?

The 2020 Tour de France is due to start just three months from now. Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

James: The more I think about this, the more I think it is really important for the sport, but also for some form of normalcy in the world. Up until just a couple of days ago, I thought it was ludicrous to have the Tour in the face of this world crisis, but I see more and more how the athletes are holding out some semblance of hope, as well as the teams. Numerous teams could collapse without the visibility of the Tour, and while a Tour without fans would be strange in many ways, it would be hugely popular on television this summer, hence assuring visibility to all its partners. It would give people a good reason to stay inside and would attract a lot of new viewers to the sport.

Andrew: I think it’s critical for professional cycling that the Tour de France be raced, but only and absolutely only if health authorities deem it to be safe and appropriate. Cycling has taken a huge hit due to the health crisis, and teams and riders are desperately hoping the Tour can be raced. Even a truncated Tour with no public and little ceremony would still be better than nothing. A Tour this summer would salvage the sport and perhaps help lift a nation.

Any decision will have to be taken in the context of the times, and only with the approval of government and health authorities. There are a lot of steps organizers can take to assure the welfare and safety of riders and the public. Right now, it seems crazy, but with how fast things are turning for the worse, they could quickly turn for the better in three or four months’ time. Come July, a Tour de France just might be what the world needs.

Jim: It seems at the moment that the Tour is everyone’s last hope – riders, team management, and perhaps even the French nation. Although it’s only a bike race and there are far wider and more critical concerns facing the world right now, the successful running of the Tour, in whatever format possible, would be an incredible sign of resilience.

And in terms of the economy of the sport, the Tour is absolutely crucial. With team sponsorship deals hinging on the Tour, even cash-rich outfits like Ineos or Bahrain-McLaren will suffer, and smaller teams could disappear without it. The cycling landscape could take a hit that requires years of recovery if the Tour doesn’t continue.

The Tour would likely be contested under extreme measures, with no fans, no start village, no publicity caravan, no post-stage podium — is it worth holding the race without the accompanying pomp and ceremony?

The Tour de France is a whole traveling carnival and national celebration every year. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Jim: For sure, it would be a shame to see the whole carnival around the race disappear, but if that’s what it takes, so be it.  We remember the Tour for the racing and the narrative underpinning the three weeks, not the circus around it. It sure won’t deter the riders, and I can’t see those tuning in to watch it caring too much after the first half of the season was wiped out.

Andrew: There are plenty of races held with little or no public. The 2016 worlds in Qatar had more camels than people lining the roads. Though it would seem odd to see a Tour without the caravan, the podium ceremony or the village départ, it wouldn’t be a first in cycling. The riders make the race anyway, and after being in lockdown for weeks and months on end, they’ll be eager to race. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime edition (or at least we’re hoping so).

James: Again, like my previous response, I think we can work around that given the extraordinary set of circumstances the world is faced with. We tested some of those things already in Paris-Nice and it worked. And on a personal level, the Tour without the caravan and all the chaos and noise it generates, well, I can certainly get my head around that!

There are a lot of ideas flying around — shorter grand tours, one big stage race across Italy, France and Spain, having all the race crammed into the fall — so what should the race calendar look like if racing can resume this summer?

Will we see a fall edition of Paris-Roubaix this year? Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Andrew: If racing resumes — and that’s a big ‘if’ right now — I think the UCI is taking the right tack. Let’s respect the races that are on the calendar, but be flexible to allow as many events to be contested as possible. First off, there are already a few events that have indicated they will just hold off until 2021. Having the Olympics off the calendar will offer some wiggle room as well.  And in a perfect world, if racing resumes in mid-June, there would be plenty of time to squeeze in most events by extending the calendar into late October. Races will have to be doubled up and overlapped, and perhaps shortened, but these are extraordinary times. The participatory rules can be relaxed, so WorldTour teams are not obligated to start everything, and smaller teams can be tapped to help fill out the peloton.

Who knows what will happen in the coming weeks and months. So, if Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are being held up north at the same as a rescheduled Giro next fall, so what? If racing resumes, every step should be taken to try to hold as many affected races as possible. No one should be left behind.

Jim: The cancelation of the Olympics is a blessing when considered in terms of re-shuffling the traditional calendar. You could perhaps try to slot in the cobbled classics into that late July – early August berth freed up by the Olympics, keep the Vuelta where it currently is, and slot in the Ardennes and world championships immediately afterward, through September.

You could then have an Italian send-off to the season in the fall: Il Lombardia, immediately into a two-week Giro, then straight into a season-closing Milano-Sanremo.  There would be quite a nice note to having a cycling year finishing with the glorious tension and last-gasp explosion of excitement that is Milano-Sanremo. It’s a romantic way of looking at it, and the Giro would have to take a 7-day hit, but I can imagine RCS may be willing to do that – a two week Giro is better than no Giro.

James: Well if we actually manage to pull off the Tour, then a Giro in August would be conceivable, but I don’t know if that should be the priority, since the Vuelta is just around the corner. There are a lot of scenarios. A three-in-one Giro-Vuelta-Tour as proposed by Matteo Trentin is a tremendous idea, although complicated…and we do not know if the Vuelta would be willing to concede and cancel a chunk of their stages (that said, since A.S.O. is a large owner of the Vuelta they could apply pressure if needed).

Instead, it might be better to focus on the one-day races. We could have some of the classics in August and another group on the heels of the Vuelta etc. Or we could simply have two calendars with tons of one-day races in conjunction with the Vuelta. We do this already really with races like the Quebec and Montreal Grand Prix races drawing a great field each year even with the Vuelta running. So often the interest and motivation declines after the Tour, this year that might not be the case!

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.