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Lefevere: I'm sceptical about a July Tour de France

Deceuninck-Quickstep boss Patrick Lefevere
Deceuninck-Quickstep boss Patrick Lefevere (Image credit: Getty Images)

Deceuninck-Quickstep boss Patrick Lefevere has spoken about his team's struggles during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, saying that he's been rewatching old races to pass the time, and wondering aloud about what will come of the remainder of the 2020 racing season.

Lefevere opened with his customary straight-talking style, chastising those who have ignored the lockdown in Belgium to go out riding in groups. The country's government has so far sent out contradictory messages about cycling, with a 50km limit mooted by interior minister Pieter De Crem, while health minister Maggie De Block has said there are no limits.

"Every crisis offers opportunities, and this is evident now: many people apparently see the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to behave like an idiot," wrote Lefevere in Het Nieuwsblad.

"Tim Declercq told me this week about groups of cyclo-tourists he passed on training. I can't understand that. Everyone knows by now that coronavirus is not a far-flung event. You can play sports outside but do it alone.

"Tim is justifiably angry when he sees groups of riders. They ruin it for everyone. Because then you immediately have a strange figure like Pieter De Crem, who thinks he will save the fatherland by keeping everyone within a radius of fifty kilometres of home while virologists immediately call that completely useless."

Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst has said that limits on long-distance exercise are not necessary, adding that maintaining social distancing while doing so was the important factor.

With no racing on and Lefevere among the countless staff and riders stuck at home across Europe, the veteran team manager has taken to watching re-runs of old races in his new-found spare time.

"Retro races help me through the crisis. I saw Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2017 again today: Dan Martin unfortunately finished second again. I also saw the victories of Philippe Gilbert and Niki Terpstra in the Tour of Flanders again.

"It's always a bad idea to live in the past, but in the current circumstances I think it's permissible.

"I have just seen Tom Boonen win the E3 Harelbeke on our old Time bikes. And made me angry again because he was so isolated in the finals. It strikes me how long ago 2005 was."

Much like anyone else involved with the sport, Lefevere can't predict when some semblance of racing normality will return. The coronavirus pandemic is open-ended at the moment, so it's hard to know if ASO's hopes of organising the Tour de France in July is realistic, for example.

As a result, riders are training (mostly indoors) for target events which will be held at an unknown date, with no clear prospect of racing again.

"Professionally, I find it hard to see the opportunities myself," Lefevere wrote. "There was a conference call with all trainers and team leaders today. All riders now have a schedule to keep them busy, but there are still no concrete prospects.

"ASO will push for the Tour, and in France there seems to be political will to make it happen, but I remain sceptical. Even in a 'Tour lite' you're still talking about a thousand people, who have to come together from all corners of the world. Can we do that by the end of June?"

Lefevere, who estimates the financial damage to his team at €500,000 and has seen staff on self-employed contracts take a 15 per cent pay cut in March, has his own ideas for an end-of-season schedule, however.

"The cycling calendar has meanwhile been extended to October 31, but what will that get us? In Guangxi last year we rode until October 22.

"I stick to my idea: to schedule the Walloon classics in the three weeks prior to the World Championships, then the Flemish classics in the following weeks. I think that's what the calendar will look like."