Despite terrorist attacks in Brussels on Tuesday morning, Dwars door Vlaanderen is set to go ahead as planned on Wednesday, according to race organiser Flanders Classics.
After holding a meeting with police at midday, Flanders Classics issued a brief statement saying that, as things stand, the race will go ahead. The preparations for the race have gone on as usual on Tuesday afternoon, with directeur sportifs entering their final list of riders for the race. It seems that any final decision on the race going ahead will be taken at a national level by Belgian police after an analysis of the security risk.
"For the moment, Dwars door Vlaanderen will take place tomorrow, despite the terrorist attacks that took place in Brussels on Tuesday morning. The organisers mourn with the victims of these terrible acts. More information in due time," the statement read.
“For the moment we're going to race tomorrow," race organiser Guy Delesie said at the race headquarters late on Tuesday afternoon after teams had confirmed their starting lineups. "There will be no podium ceremony and there will be a minutes silence but for now the good news is that race is on. That will only change if the police or Belgian parliament makes a different decision."
It was thought that the organisers might be forced to cancel Dwars door Vlaanderen after terror attacks at Brussels Airport and the Maelbeek metro station, near the EU buildings in the Belgian capital. The terror threat rating in Belgium was raised to four – the highest level – in the immediate aftermath of the incident, which restricts large gatherings such as sporting events.
Dwars door Vlaanderen is just the first of a series of races in Flanders over the next two weeks in the build-up to the Tour of Flanders on April 3. It remains to be seen what impact the heightened security in Belgium will have on the forthcoming races, namely E3 Harelbeke on Friday, Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday and next week's Three Days of De Panne.
Cyclingnews contacted Trek Segafredo, one of the teams affected by Tuesday's events. The American-registered team had twelve riders heading to Belgium today with riders set to participate in Dwars Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. The team woke up the news in Brussels, and have since started to try and re-route riders through Amsterdam and Charleroi airports.Italian riders Giacomo Nizzolo and Niccolo Bonifazio will only arrive in Charleroi airport, an hour south if Brussels at 11pm local time.
Giant-Alpecin have half their team for Dwars door Vlaanderen unable to travel to Belgium, although confirmed to Cyclingnews that all the team was okay. US riders Chad Haga and Caleb Fairly were due to travel from Spain to Brussels on Tuesday morning, while Fredrik Ludvigsson was meant to be travelling from Sweden. The team was already down to just six riders, rather than the allowed eight.
The professional women's peloton has also been affected with the female Dwars door Vlaanderen also facing a possible cancellation. Hitec Products' team manager Karl Lima has already decided to remove his team from the race, with so many of his riders unable to reach Belgium ahead of tomorrow's race. The Norwegian team boss took to Twitter to make the announcement and to vent his frustration.
Wiggle-High5 have told Cyclingnews that they will race if organisers chose to put on the event. "In respect to the organisers, if they decide to go ahead then we will race because we know how difficult it is to put on a race," team manager Rochelle Gilmore told Cyclingnews.
Several of the team's riders are based in Belgium, however, others are now stuck mid-travel. Audrey Cordon was travelling to the race by train from France but her train was stopped en-route. Amy Roberts is also stuck in transit while Gilmore herself had been due to fly into Brussels at 8:35am but missed her flight.
Gilmore said that they are awaiting the decision of the organisers, which was due to be made after the 12 o'clock meeting with the police, after which they would either make alternate travel plans or send the riders home.
What does threat level 4 mean?
Belgium's threat analysis unit OCAD constantly evaluates the level of terror threat since December 2006. There are four possible levels, going from 1 to 4. Certain areas in Belgium are always on level 3 (serious threat), like the American embassy and Jewish and Israeli institutions. The level is also used during European top meetings or special events.
Level 4 can result in a shutdown of public transportation, schools and shops. Major events are likely to be cancelled but these are evaluated individually. Level 4 was used in the Brussels area most recently between 21 and 26 November 2015 after the terrorist attacks in Paris. After the terror in Brussels on Tuesday morning the terror threat was raised to level four for the whole country.
Last week police released the news that at eight critical locations of the Tour of Flanders course people would not be allowed to carry backpacks. These precautions were taken because the terror threat was set to three.
Logically an even higher terror threat will result in more strict precautions, and could also have an impact on the other major Spring Classics which are to follow in the coming weeks.