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Thomas De Gendt: No Tour de France would be disastrous for cycling

Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt in action at the 2020 Tour Down Under precursor, the Schwalbe Classic
Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt in action at the 2020 Tour Down Under precursor, the Schwalbe Classic (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Lotto Soudal's Thomas De Gendt says that organising this year's Tour de France in some form or another could prove to be vital in retaining the interest of team sponsors. 

While the Tour could take place across new dates, with the latest suggestion being that it could be held from the last week of July to mid-August, nothing is certain while the coronavirus still holds much of the world – and sport – in lockdown.

"I hope that the Tour de France takes place because a lot of sponsors – not just ours – have calculated their budgets based on the Tour's visibility, which is still broadcast on TV in a hundred countries," De Gendt told Het Nieuwsblad on Tuesday. 

"If the Tour is cancelled, I think we'll see a lot of teams quit at the end of the year because their sponsorship will then disappear. Things could get very bleak for cycling.

"No Tour de France would be disastrous for cycling," he continued. "Even though the Tour is pretty insignificant when it comes to the coronavirus crisis, for us riders it's our whole world.

"I don't see why there couldn't be people at the roadside during the Tour. When they're in small groups, like at Paris-Nice, and are scattered around, it's not dangerous at all, especially if you only allowed people who had to be there at the starts and finishes [i.e. not the public]. The experience would be completely different, but it would be better to have a modified Tour than not having one at all."

De Gendt's Lotto Soudal team has been one of those where both riders and staff have agreed to take a pay-cut while the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the sport.

"Nobody likes to give up money," said De Gendt. "You signed up for your salary, and you're entitled to it, but our main sponsors – Lotto, Soudal, Caps, Ridley – are losing a great deal of their income. 

"If we just stick to our contracts, there'll simply be no more money at the end of the year and the team will be bankrupt. Something had to be done – otherwise we wouldn't have had a team by the last three months of the season."

'I see eRacing as a real solution'

The alternative during this period of time without any real racing has been an increase in indoor training and racing on systems such as Zwift and BKool. A 'virtual Tour of Flanders' – dubbed the Tour of Flanders Lockdown Edition – was held on the latter system at the weekend, and De Gendt was one of a number of high-profile riders who took part, with CCC Team's Greg Van Avermaet coming away with the victory.

"In the absence of real races, I see eRacing as a real solution," De Gendt said, "especially to give the sponsors and the [race] organisers a bit of visibility. Once the peloton returns to normal, I don't think many pros will still participate in those virtual races, but perhaps it will still exist as a separate branch of cycling.

"We're all road cyclists – we know how to react in the peloton, and what to do if someone suddenly swerves in front of us. When you're on the home trainer, that aspect completely disappears. It becomes about pure power production. But maybe I'll still take part in the virtual Tour de Suisse at the end of the month."

In the meantime, De Gendt said will be trying to keep in shape, and won't be allowing himself to fall back into 'winter mode'.

"Otherwise, you pile on the pounds," he said. "But no one's going to be riding preparation races for the Tour, and no one's going to be going on altitude training camps. Everyone's going to be in the same boat.

"The riders from Italy, France and Spain aren't allowed to train on the road at the moment, but I don't think you will be able to see the difference between who has been able to ride outside this month and who hasn't," De Gendt said. "The Tour's still very far away. In a month, those riders from those other countries should be out of lockdown and will have two months to prepare. That's enough time to get in shape for the Tour.

"Plus, unlike the Belgians, they'll be able to ride in the mountains, so they might even have the advantage."