The mayor of Plumelec in north west France, host town for this year’s French national road championships, has said that he no longer wants to stage the event over fears of it fuelling renewed cases of COVID-19 in the region.
The French nationals are due to be staged on August 21-23 in the Brittany town and a row between Mayor Stephane Hamon and the French Cycling Federation over going ahead with the championships has been brewing for the past month or so.
"I don’t want to risk another cluster of infections in Morbihan," Hamon said in April.
British Cycling has recently announced the suspension of all national events, including the national championships, until September 1, due to similar health concerns.
Hamon remains keen to cancel the French nationals both because of fears over a second wave in the coronavirus pandemic and also the expected influx of athletes, officials and spectators to his town in the Morbihan region of Brittany.
As France revealed its lockdown exit plan at the end of April, one key point, unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, was that gatherings of more than 5,000 people would not be allowed until September.
"The French championships bring together more than 5,000 people," Hamon, who has been seeking 'health guarantees' from the French Cycling Federation, said after Philippe had outlined the French strategy for easing lockdown.
"They were to take place in August, so they will now not take place. That's it.
"Wisdom must now prevail, the French championships are cancelled," he said, before adding: "The behind-closed-door championship hypothesis, I absolutely don't believe it.
“I’ll say it again: without real (health) guarantees, I’m not having the championships and the council is unanimous on the subject," Hamon said.
Meanwhile, the wealth of mountainous pre-Tour de France racing in south east France - effectively the opposite end of the country to Plumelec - the logistical impact of travel restrictions, and the fear of contracting the virus in air travel, may also dramatically reduce the appeal of the race to France’s biggest names.
The Route d’Occitanie (August 1-4), the Mont Ventoux Denivele Challenge (August 6), the Tour de l’Ain from (August 7-9), the Critérium du Dauphiné (August 12-16) and the Mercantour Classic (August 24) are all within drivable distance of each other. In addition, almost all of these races cover terrain similar to those featuring in the 2020 Tour de France route.
Already riders are designing their programmes around minimal travel, with Vincenzo Nibali opting for a primarily Italian schedule and Primoz Roglic expected to focus on French locations for both training and racing, prior to the Tour’s Grand Départ in Nice on August 29.
Although it has been suggested that the French national championships could move to October, the revised calendar is now so packed that finding a suitable date appears almost impossible.
Marc Madiot, Groupama-FDJ boss and French national league president, insisted that it’s still too early to postpone or cancel the French nationals.
"For the moment, a lot of things are up in the air," Madiot, said. "The calendar’s taking shape but it’s not definitive.
"We have to be pragmatic," he added. "The way we are thinking today won’t necessarily be the way we think in two months and may be far from how we think in three months. Either the situation will be better, and it will be possible to stage the championships, or, we will still be in lockdown or coming out of lockdown."
According to the French Cycling Federation (FFC), it’s the UCI that fixes the dates for the national championships, "traditionally a week before the start of the Tour". But the FFC told French TV that 'nothing is carved in stone'.
"Without sufficient health guarantees, the Sports Minister will not authorise a return to competition, for cycling or for any other sports," the FFC said.
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