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Tour de Wallonie: Mayor of Ath refuses stage finish due to coronavirus fears

Loïc Vliegen (Wanty Gobert) won the overall title at the 2019 Tour de Wallonie
Loïc Vliegen (Wanty Gobert) won the overall title at the 2019 Tour de Wallonie (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The organisers of the 2020 VOO Tour de Wallonie – rescheduled to take place from August 16-19 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – are looking for a new host for the finish of its opening stage after the Mayor of Ath refused to host the race over continuing concerns about the coronavirus.

"I have to protect my people. COVID-19 is not behind us yet; there are still too many infections," Bruno Lefebvre is quoted across the Belgian media as having said on Tuesday.

The 2.1-ranked stage race was originally scheduled to run from July 27-31. It was won last year by Loïc Vliegen (Wanty Gobert), but may attract bigger teams and riders this season – and potentially bigger crowds – due to its new position on the calendar, less than two weeks out from the start of the Tour de France in Nice on August 29.

"In addition to many cycling figures and the usual 2,000 spectators, hundreds of additional people would come to Ath," the city council said, according to Sporza. "That creates an epidemiological risk that we do not want to take for our residents."

The rescheduled Tour de Wallonie has already been shortened by a day compared to normal, and race director Christophe Brandt called the decision by Ath's mayor "politically driven", according to Het Nieuwsblad on Tuesday.

"A week later, the Ducasse van Ath should have taken place – a folkloric festival over several days, when 120,000 people come together, which the mayor was forced to cancel," said Brandt. "That is why he is now also sacrificing the race."

The Belgian newspaper wrote that there are apparently two candidates to replace Ath as the finish of the road stage, which will start in Soignies and should have been contested over 188.9km. One of them is apparently nearby Tournai, close to the French border, near Roubaix and Lille. A decision is expected to be made soon.