Paris-Nice continues southwards despite the restrictions imposed on sports events in France due to the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, but Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) maintains that few in the peloton believe the race will make it all the way to the finish in Nice on Sunday.
On Monday, the French government enacted new measures that prohibited public gatherings of a thousand people or more, which has had an immediate effect on some marquee events. Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League tie against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday will be held behind closed doors, while the French rugby team’s Six Nations game against Ireland this weekend has been postponed.
The running of Paris-Nice has not yet been affected, though organiser ASO responded to the decree by barring the public from attending the start and finish areas of stages. Riders had already been advised to avoid interaction with supporters on the race, while podium and signing-on ceremonies have been cut back.
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"If you look around in the peloton, 90 percent assume that we will not get to Nice," Stuyven said, according to Het Laatste Nieuws. "Perhaps this new measure is the next step in that direction."
The cycling season has already been disrupted by Covid-19. The final two stages of the UAE Tour were cancelled and the entire caravan was quarantined after a suspected outbreak on the race, while all races this month in Italy have been postponed, including Milan-San Remo, Tirreno-Adriatico and Strade Bianche.
Winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Belgium’s Opening Weekend, Stuyven is among the chief contenders for the upcoming slate of cobbled Classics in his home country, but he expressed concern that the races might not take place at all. Belgium currently has 239 confirmed cases of Covid-19 but thus far has not imposed restrictions on public gatherings similar to those in France or Italy.
“They say it is still eight days before we head to Belgium, but by that time it can also explode completely in Belgium,” Stuyven said. “Organisers can take measures, but at the same time the virus spreads exponentially. I fear that this will also affect Flemish Classics.”
A native of Leuven, Stuyven has recently based himself in Monaco, where he has tried to take what precautions he can against Covid-19.
“I don't go outside if I don't have to,” he said. “I prepare my food at home. Last week, someone was taken from our apartment block for fear of a coronavirus infection. It turned out to be a false alarm. I think: ‘If it comes, then it will come.’ I don't panic.”
Paris-Nice continues on Tuesday with the 212km stage 3 from Chalette-sur-Loing to La Châtre. Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) carries the yellow jersey, while Stuyven's teammate Vincenzo Nibali lies 9th at 28 seconds.