Coronavirus sees much of Europe in lockdown, but two of the season’s grand tours are holding out hope that racing will resume in time to salvage part of the 2020 racing season as scheduled.
Tour de France officials told local mayors they will decide by mid-May if it’s feasible to hold the race as scheduled — from June 27 to July 19 — while the Vuelta a España officials insist the Spanish grand tour is still on track for August 14 to September 6.
According to a report in RTBF, Tour de France owners ASO have indicated to local mayors hosting stages along this year’s route that a final decision will be made by the middle of May.
“We’d have to work fast,” said Eric Houlley, mayor of Lure, host of the start of stage 20. “But a decision by mid-May, everything would still be in play.”
Four options on table
ASO is said to be considering four options: holding the race as normal, conducting it “behind closed doors” without fans, rescheduling it, or canceling it outright. This week, the French sports minister indicated that a Tour without the viewing public might be possible if conditions improve by summer but have not yet fully returned to normal.
Everything, of course, depends on the status of the coronavirus crisis currently gripping Europe. France is currently under an ever-tightening lockdown, with an increasing number of cases, but less so than neighboring Italy and Spain.
Comments this week from French sports minister, Roxana Maracineanu, raised some hope that the Tour might be salvaged. Maracineanu floated the idea of having a stripped-down version of the Tour de France if the coronavirus crisis eases in the new few months.
“It is still too early to decide,” Maracineanu said on the news network France Bleu. “We are studying every scenario and are working with ASO. The Tour is a sports monument. There is a time for everything. Right now we have another more urgent battle to fight. Let’s focus on that mountain first and look at other things later.”
The Tour has so many moving parts, with considerations for safety, traffic, and coordination among dozens of towns and provinces, that local officials say they would need to know as soon as possible if the Tour is on or off. Right now, most of France is in lockdown, and police, government and health authorities are focused on controlling the spread of coronavirus.
Even if the health crisis eases, not everyone is thrilled with the idea of having a stripped-down version of the Tour when fans would largely be kept away from start and finish towns, which pay big fees to ASO for hosting rights. Some local mayors said they would prefer to have the Tour in its full splendor, or try to reschedule the race to later in the summer in hopes of a coronavirus respite.
“Our restaurateurs, our hoteliers, and our tenants are enduring complicated times, and they see the Tour as a good way to get their heads above water,” said Stéphane Villain, deputy mayor of Châtelaillon-Plage, which hosts the start of the 11th stage. “Normally, our summer season begins on July 15. Thanks to the Tour, it would start earlier. This would greatly help our local businesses.”
There are also questions if riders and teams would be able to move freely across the globe to travel to France if the Tour is given the green light. While restrictions might be lifted in parts of Europe, other countries might remain in lockdown, perhaps preventing some of the peloton’s top stars from racing.
Right now, ASO is at least considering the alternatives and is keeping its options open. Many within cycling, which has seen its calendar frozen through May, say that holding even a minimalist version of the Tour is better than not racing at all.
“Deep down, I only hope for one thing — that the Tour takes place in July,” Madiot told La Libération. “For the economy of pro cycling, and for the psychological well-being of the French people, it would be good to get back to normal life in July.”
Vuelta still on track
In Spain, conditions are much worse, with the death toll doubling about every three days, but health officials there are hopeful that more than two weeks of quarantine nationwide will start to flatten the infection curve.
Watching from the sidelines, Vuelta officials said they are still sticking to their scheduled dates for now, but would only race with the full support and approval from health authorities.
“We are looking forward to the end of the lockdown to make the best Vuelta in history,” Vuelta director Javier Guillén told EFE. “We’re facing a situation without precedent, but everyone at the Vuelta is working with the idea that the Vuelta will be raced.”
The Giro d’Italia has already been postponed from its May date on the calendar. Race organizers RCS Sport are considering a redesign of the route to stay within the borders of Italy, and hope to be able to contest perhaps even a shortened version of the race later in the season.
The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games until 2021 will open up some space on the racing calendar if and when competition can resume.
So far, the UCI said it is working to restructure the pro cycling calendar, giving priority to races that remain on the schedule, and after that, the grand tours and one-day monuments. Some races have already said they will not try to reschedule their events for 2020, while others, such as Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo, and the northern classics, still hope to be contested in the fall of 2020.