Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has expressed optimism that the bulk of the cycling calendar will go ahead as planned despite the spate of early-season postponements and cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Races including the Tour Down Under, Vuelta a San Juan, Challenge Mallorca and Ruta del Sol have fallen victim to coronavirus restrictions so far in 2021, while ASO itself has cancelled the Tour of Oman and Saudi Tour. The French cycling season has since begun on schedule, however, with the Grand Prix de la Marseillaise and Étoile de Bessèges both taking place last week, while the Tour de la Provence gets underway on Thursday.
Prudhomme, who is also president of the AIOCC – the International Association of Cycling Race Organisers – evinced confidence that elite sport would be able to continue despite the coronavirus restrictions in place in Europe.
“In all the meetings that we have with local authorities, we always highlight the specific nature of professional sport, which allows competition to go ahead, obviously with adapted measures,” Prudhomme told RTBF.
“I’m therefore reasonably optimistic even if, personally, I thought a few months ago that we would be able to start 2021 calmly… That hasn’t been the case, but until proof to the contrary, that won't prevent us from holding the races while respecting what the authorities ask of us.”
While some organisers of postponed races have already sought to reschedule their events for May, the UCI has insisted that no formal changes to the calendar will be confirmed until March. As in 2020, Prudhomme envisages overlaps between events of similar standing on any rearranged calendar.
“Contrary to what we normally wish, it’s certainly not a serious problem this year if there is an overlap between certain events. Riders have to be able to race,” said Prudhomme, who noted that increasingly stringent rules on international travel mean that race organisers will have to facilitate additional PCR tests for riders at the end of their events.
“For example, for Paris-Nice, we’ll have to make sure that riders have access to labs that are capable of carrying out rapid tests so that they can travel home.”
After taking place in Autumn last year following the revision of the calendar, the Tour de France returns to its summer date in 2021, with the race scheduled to take place from June 26-July 18. It remains to be seen if restrictions will have lifted sufficiently to allow spectators on the roadside and at stage starts and finishes.
“I hope we'll have people on the roadside even if I don't know today,” Prudhomme said. “I hope that we will have a normal life again and that the beginning of summer will be like a kind of liberation. What we hope is that the festive atmosphere, which is essential in cycling in general and in the Tour de France in particular, can be as beautiful as it was in the recent past.”
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