Christian Prudhomme, the director of cycling at Paris-Roubaix organiser ASO, has revealed they offered to cut some cobbled sectors of the race in the hope the 'Hell of the North' could be held on April 10 this spring, but ultimately had to bow to political pressure to postpone the race to October after French President Emmanuel Macron ordered a new three-week lockdown across the country.
The UCI agreed to reschedule the women’s Paris-Roubaix for Saturday, October 2, and the men’s race on Sunday, October 3, a week after the UCI Road Race World Championships in nearby Belgium.
Despite the postponement of Paris-Roubaix, Prudhomme appeared optimistic for ASO’s other races, including the Tour de France, which is scheduled for June 26-July 18.
“The essential progress of vaccination allows us to see the future with relative serenity," Prudhomme told L'Équipe, which is also owned by ASO.
Prudhomme and his staff made a detailed reconnaissance of the Paris-Roubaix route last week to identify sectors of pavé, including the Forest of Arenberg, that they could cut from the route to stop crowds from gathering along the farm tracks and country roads.
However, it was all in vain.
“The goal was to see if by removing certain sectors, we could have more easily controlled the potential crowds. It was all very meticulous, but it wasn't enough. We did not get permission,” he revealed.
“Unfortunately, we don't decide everything. The decision to postpone was taken in close collaboration with elected officials and according to the health constraints of the moment. The situation is not the same as a month ago. We were able to modify the last two stages of Paris-Nice because the new routes were outside the lockdown area. Up there (in the northern hauts-de-France region near Belgium), the whole area is in lockdown.
"It’s true that races are taking place on the other side of the border but Belgium is not in lockdown. I can assure you that we did everything we could do, until the end.”
Macron announced a new national lockdown after daily infections doubled to 40,000 cases since February, and with more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in intensive care. There was even concern that local hospitals would not be able to treat any riders injured during Paris-Roubaix because they are close to the breaking point.
During recent speculation that Paris-Roubaix would be postponed, dates later in October were initially suggested, after Il Lombardia and other final one-day Classics of the season. However, ASO pushed for early October and the slot a week after the World Championships in nearby Belgium, when COVID-19 cases could be low after the summer and the weather better than the end of October.
The new October 2-3 dates clash with the men’s Giro dell’Emilia but few other races.
Prudhomme revealed the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix will be held on Saturday October 2 so that the women can travel to Britain for the start of the rescheduled Women’s Tour on Monday, October 4. ASO intends to hold the men’s and women’s Paris-Roubaix on the same date in 2022.
“It was the date that best suited all the different partners,” Prudhomme explained. “There are no WorldTour events that weekend. It is obvious it disrupts certain races on the Belgian, Italian and French national calendars, and we are sorry about that.”
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