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Tour de France focused on postponement not cancellation, according to confidential email

Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot
Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot during the 2019 Tour de France (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Organisers of the Tour de France are working on a postponement of this year's race rather than a total cancellation, according to the Reuters news agency.

The 2020 Tour de France is still scheduled for its original date of June 27-July 19 but is expected to be postponed by several weeks due to the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has so caused more than 13,000 deaths in France and has swept across Europe and around the world.

According to recent reports in French newspaper Le Parisien and the Spanish news agency Efe, Tour de France organiser ASO has contacted the mayors of some of the start and finish towns for the 2020 race route to check support for the delay. The new Plan B dates - if French medical experts, the French government, and the UCI agree the race can go ahead - would be to start in Nice on Saturday, July 25, and end in Paris on August 16.

Race organiser ASO are notorious for limiting communications, but Reuters claimed it has seen an email that was sent to the different publishers of the official Tour programme.

The publishing arm of L'Equipe newspaper, which is owned by the same family as the Tour de France organisers, wrote in the email it was "freezing the administrative aspects of our collaboration" ahead of the planned early-summer date but hinted at an official postponement rather than full cancellation. 

"The unpredictable nature of the global crisis that we are all caught up in means that we will have to be patient until there's an official announcement of (Tour organisers) ASO about the 2020 race, bearing in mind that the current focus is on a postponement until later in the summer rather than a cancellation,"

Reuters said that the Tour de France organisers declined to comment. ASO has reportedly set a deadline of May 15 to decide if the Tour will run on its scheduled dates or if it will be postponed.

Other major sporting events across Europe have been postponed or cancelled, but the Tour de France is seen as vital for the survival of a number of leading professional teams who rely on the huge global visibility of the three-week race to justify their title sponsorships. The Tour de France would also be seen as emblematic of France's recovery from COVID-19 and could take advantage of the lack of other major sporting events.     

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is already being felt in professional cycling. Riders at Lotto Soudal, Astana, Bahrain McLaren, Mitchelton-Scott and a number of other smaller teams have all taken pay cuts or wage deferrals, while a number of non-riding staff members have been furloughed and some sponsors threaten to turn off the tap. 

Speaking on the BBC World Service's Newsday programme, Doug Ryder, the manager of the NTT Pro Cycling team, highlighted the importance of holding the Tour and hoped it could still be held in the summer. 

"We're just hoping that, come end of June, the Tour de France can still take place - it's critical for us as teams that it does happen this year," Ryder said.

"With the Olympic Games moving out a year - which I think is the right decision because people have trained and prepared for so long - it's tough, but the Tour de France could potentially move out a few weeks and still happen in July.

"So we've got hope that it could still happen and May 15th is the date they've put out when they'll make the call. So let's hope it's the right call and let's hope we can still be racing around France in July."

With racing stopped until at least June 1 and many riders unable to train outdoors in Italy, France and Spain, they have to taken to indoor training and virtual eSports racing on digital platforms like Zwift.

Team Ineos will ride with fans on Sunday afternoon, with 2019 Tour de France winner Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome racing against each other soon after. Late in April many of the leading men's WorldTour teams will compete in the five-day 'Digital Swiss 5' on the Rouvy platform.

Riders hope to have at least a month to train outdoors before a return to racing in the second half of the 2020 season and are ready to race into November to ensure as many of the postponed spring races go ahead.