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Tour of Poland restricts fans, bans media in return to racing

WorldTour's first stage race since March will be held 'behind closed doors' with limited access for fans and journalists.

The Tour de Pologne set for next month will provide a preview of what “racing behind closed doors” might look like in the COVID-19 era.

Officials Friday confirmed that fans will not be allowed at the start and finish areas, and that media will largely be banned during the first WorldTour stage race of the revived racing calendar. The publicity caravan and other race attractions are also gone.

“This year Tour de Pologne will take place without spectators at the start and finish, there will be no race town with attractions, and finally no publicity caravan,” a press note read Friday. “For the sake of safety and health, and in the face of a number of restrictions and requirements related to the pandemic, we have changed some rules in organizing the race.”

Race officials were not immediately available for comment, and it was unclear if such severe restrictions are a result of pressure from government authorities or if other factors were considered.

Some of the peloton’s top names are lining up for the race August 5-9, including world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Richard Carapaz (Team Ineos), but it’s going to be hard to see them except for on TV. No photographers, journalists, or camera crews will be credentialed for the race.

Race organizers instead promise to deliver content to fans and media outlets with internal staff that have cleared medical checks.

The rules for the Poland tour are much stricter than what’s being rolled out for the Vuelta a Burgos in Spain at the end of July. Spanish authorities there are allowing limited media access, and fans will be able to attend the race under strict social distancing rules with the required use of face masks.

The Polish restrictions come as the peloton is nervously trying to see a return to competition after four months of an unprecedented race stoppage triggered by the world pandemic of the coronavirus. Teams have already invested in constructing “bubbles” with strict controls and monitoring that will help assure that riders and staffers remain free of COVID-19.

Insiders are hopeful the strict protocols introduced last month by the UCI and expanded upon by teams will help ease concerns among regional and national health authorities in host countries about the impacts of seeing racing come to local communities.

Some worry that fans and media, which are not controlled under the “bubble” system, remain a wild-card factor that could potentially undermine the viability of racing.

There was no immediate comment from the journalists association AIJC, which has been working closely with the UCI and race organizers to try to guarantee some sort of media access for upcoming races in the revamped calendar.

Media and fan access seems likely for the upcoming Tour de France (August 29 to September 20) under hints of what Tour organizers are planning, but a final blueprint has yet to be confirmed.