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Tour of Flanders with crowds ‘unthinkable without a coronavirus vaccine’

Iconic race may have to go ahead 'behind closed doors' this October as Belgian Prime Minister urges caution.

The Tour of Flanders may have to go behind closed doors in 2020.

Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo  has cast doubt over De Ronde going ahead in its usual format, telling Het Nieuswblad that “a Tour of Flanders with the public seems unthinkable this year without a vaccine.”

The race is currently set to go ahead October 18, the centerpiece of a month packed with major one-day races through northern Europe, including Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Amstel Gold Race.

Dutch race Amstel Gold is slated to go ahead the weekend before Flanders, and has been put under a similar shadow in recent days. Both the Prime Minister and Health Minister of the Netherlands suggested Friday that mass sporting events could only go ahead once a vaccine for the coronavirus has been found.

Organizers of Amstel Gold are considering taking the race ‘behind closed doors’, and that may have to be the solution for Flanders Classics, the business behind De Ronde, Gent-Wevelgem, and a host of other Belgian classics. De Croo indicated that “to go to a model like in the Netherlands” could be a solution for races in his country.

Virologist and De Croo’s adviser Marc Van Ranst enforced the message that a Tour of Flanders with its customary thousands of fans may not be possible this year.

“A Tour on October 18 is not impossible, but it will not be a Tour with full VIP tents and a crowd of people at the start and finish,” Van Ranst said. “And if there is a second wave of the virus, we have to revise everything.”

Het Nieuswblad reported that Flanders Classics have already started sketching out a stripped-back, low key ‘Plan B’ for Flanders, and likely also for Gent-Wevelgem which is in the calendar October 11.

While riders have been free to train outdoors in Belgium for recent months, unlike those in many European nations, sporting events in the country have been shut down. The current plan by Flemish sports minister Ben Weyts is for events with 2,000 spectators to be permitted from 31 July, with a relaxing of rules around crowd sizes from early September.