The Belgian cycling federation has announced a new date for its road national championships, with the elite men and women due to compete for the road race titles on Tuesday September 22 in Anzegem, two days after the Tour de France and during the week of the Road World Championships.
The decision to postpone the championships from the UCI's allotted date of August 22 and 23 was made after the Belgian government ruled that no mass gatherings would be allowed until September to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The country has the fifth highest number of COVID-19 cases in Europe with almost 55,000 confirmed cases and 9,000 deaths.
The federation is still looking for a new date for the elite men and women's time trials in Koksijde and the U23 and elite without contract races planned in Lokeren.
The new date comes two days after the final stage of the Tour de France in Paris on September 20 and the UCI Road World Championships elite men's time trial, which is currently scheduled to overlap with the Tour. It is also three days after the completion of the Women's WorldTour Giro d'Italia Femminile.
The new date raises questions about who the race will favour. Deceuninck-Quickstep's Yves Lampaert tells Het Nieuwsblad that there is only one Belgian rider who will come out of the Tour de France able to challenge for the Belgian title.
"I know how I feel after the Tour. I am not worth the Roeselare criterium on Tuesday. And the Belgian Championships is a different story. This is only good for one Belgian Tour participant: Thomas De Gendt," he said.
De Gendt, winner of the Saint-Étienne stage in last year's Tour de France is one of the few riders who comes out of a Grand Tour stronger. Greg Van Avermaet also gains strength over three weeks of racing, as evidenced by his gold medal in the 2016 Olympic Games.
He plans to take aim at the Belgian title with a simple strategy: "I'm going to start the Tour with the thought that this year it will last two days longer and will end on Tuesday in Anzegem."
Having the Belgian championships in the midst of a highly compressed WorldTour calendar also tips the scales in the favour of riders on teams who won't ride the Tour de France.
Defending champion Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) was disappointed the team wasn't given a chance to be added as another wildcard for the Tour but is now relishing the thought of racing the championships when many Belgians are fatigued.
"Hopefully Wout van Aert will still aim for a win on the final stage, and will be recovered even less for the Belgian Championships," Merlier said.