Tour de France organisers ASO has reportedly set a deadline of May 15 for a final decision on whether the race will go ahead this summer. With the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic still raging and sports events, including the Olympic Games, being postponed or cancelled, the Tour is among the last major summer events which has an undecided fate.
The news comes as mayors of various host towns worry about the possibility of a 'closed' Tour, run without fans, a prospect mooted by French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu on Wednesday.
A postponement of the race could also be on the cards, with ex-UCI President Brian Cookson suggesting 2020's Grand Tours could be reduced to two weeks and run from late July through to the end of the season.
"The race is millions of people who come to see the riders up close," Stéphane Villain, deputy mayor of Châtaillon-Plage, which hosts stage 11, told RTBF. "Even if the shots on television are beautiful, even if it makes you want to visit, it would completely distort the event. It wouldn't have the same flavour.
"We have to wait until May 1, which should be a pivotal date. At least that's what [Tour organiser] Christian Prudhomme told me. We'll see then if we're still in lockdown. Then there will still be time to decide whether to cancel or postpone. But frankly, he didn't seem very concerned."
RTBF added in its reporting that May 15 was the date set by ASO, with the window before the Tour giving towns and cities enough time to prepare, should the lockdown be over.
"I don't have many illusions," Daniel Spagnou, mayor of Sisteron, the town which hosts the finish and start of stages 3 and 4, told RTBF. "But with the cancellation of the Olympic Games, prospects are opening up for us. Why not postpone the Tour to the end of July?
"Normally, I'd be against this idea as the French go on holiday, but I'm convinced that even with the lockdown lifted, our people will tend to stay at home. They would therefore welcome the Tour by the roadside or in front of their homes."
Pascal Schwartz, the mayor of Saint-Martin-de-Ré set to host the finish of stage 10, told RTBF that the country's current lockdown measures mean that roadworks planned for the Tour are on hold indefinitely.
"We're worried," he said. "We're running very late. Because of the lockdown, roadworks are at a standstill, even though they are essential in order to run Le Grand Boucle.
"The prefecture is also at a standstill, but they have to validate our safety plans. The projects essential for the arrival of the Tour are, rightly, on hold at the moment."
Schwartz argued against the prospect of closed roads – as well as the economic factors for local business and tourism, the question of enforcement also factors in.
"It's impossible. How would it be possible to prevent people from taking up positions along the road? We can't have a gendarme every five meters to enforce that decision."
Villain said that businesses are looking forward to the race as a regular economic boost, but even more so after the lockdown period comes to an end.
"Out restaurant owners, hoteliers and landlords are going through complicated times and they see the Tour as a good way to get their heads above water. Normally, our summer season starts on July 15. Thanks to the Tour it would start earlier, and this would be a great help to our traders.
"The priority is obviously our residents with everything happening around Covid-19, but we must also think about tomorrow. After all this, we'll also want to think about something else, get together, celebrate. I hope to have some good news in May."
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