The ongoing coronavirus pandemic will force all of the Spring Classics in Flanders to prohibit spectators from gathering along the road sides, from the 'Opening Weekend' at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this month through the Tour of Flanders in April, organisers of Flanders Classics announced on Wednesday.
There are just 10 days until Omloop Het Nieuwsblad opens the Classics season with a WorldTour-level race for men and Pro Series event for women, but although COVID-19 cases are down tenfold from the peak in late October, the emergence of new, potentially more infectious variants and still over a thousand new cases each day have kept restrictions in place in Belgium, including a non-essential travel ban.
"Unfortunately, the current health situation does not yet allow us to cheer on the riders at the start in Ghent, along the course or at the finish in Ninove," the announcement on the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad website reads. "Therefore, we are asking you to follow the opening classic from your couch this year."
The start and finish will be cordoned off from the public and the hills and cobbled sections will blocked off from spectators. The race is asking for a ban on gatherings of more than four people and are requiring masks along the route from one hour before the race to one hour after.
"So for once, you will be able to watch the opening classic better on television. The Flanders Classics autumn in 2020 was a success partly thanks to the cycling fans. Help us this year and experience the race from your living room."
Flanders Classics also organises Gent-Wevelgem (March 28), Dwars door Vlaanderen (March 31), Tour of Flanders (April 4), Scheldeprijs (April 7) and Brabantse Pijl (April 14).
According to Sporza, the governor of East Flanders Carina Van Cauter is asking for a ban on all side-events along the course.
"There is a ban on gathering together along the course and it is mandatory to wear a mouth mask. All these measures will certainly apply until April 5, the day after the Tour of Flanders. This way the organizers know where they stand."
"Last year we already had a good exercise with the Tour of Flanders. The strict measures were very well observed then. If the cycling fans do the same this year, starting on 27 February with the Omloop, we will have a fantastic spring of cycling again."
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