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Tour Down Under in doubt due to COVID-19 pandemic

WILLUNGA HILL AUSTRALIA JANUARY 26 Willunga Hill 374m Fans Public Peloton Australia Flag during the 22nd Santos Tour Down Under 2020 Stage 6 a 1515km stage from McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill 374m TDU tourdownunder UCIWT on January 26 2020 in Willunga Hill Australia Photo by Daniel KaliszGetty Images
A scene from the 2020 Tour Down Under (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The future of the 2021 Tour Down Under men's and women's events are in doubt after reports emerged that race organisers are exploring contingency plans for the Australian races.

The women's race is set to start on January 14, followed by the 23rd edition of the men's race on January 19, but the COVID-19 pandemic has cast doubt over the feasibility of holding the two events.

Back in August, South Australia state government stated that the race would take place in some format, and on Tuesday race organisers signaled that some kind of cycling event will take place even if the men's and women's races are unable to be staged.

Tour Down Under organisers are set to make a call on the future of the race on Thursday, with the future of the two races depending on how many WorldTour teams would be interested in travelling to Australia given a quarantine period looks certain upon entering the country. 

Being in a special Tour Down Under quarantine bubble would allow the rider to train outdoors in Australia with a police escort but they would not be allowed any other contact for 14 days.

Cyclingnews understands that the aim is for at least ten WorldTour teams to take part.

Speaking to The Adelaide Advertiser, Events SA executive director Hitaf Rasheed said: "The Santos Tour Down Under is an important event for South Australia and it's for that reason that we are  ensuring we take as much time as necessary to consider whether it's fully possible to deliver a safe and successful (event) for South Australia, our event partners, the UCI and the teams.

"There are a lot of moving parts in making a decision like this. There are many stakeholders, and we have been working closely with them to ensure we arrive at the best possible outcome for all concerned."

Alternate scenarios being considered if the pro races cannot take place could include a festival of cycling featuring rider appearances. Rasheed said in September that she planned to meet with Tour de France organisers ASO for advice on how Le Grand Boucle was successfully staged during the pandemic.

"We have also been considering alternate scenarios if we are unable to deliver the Santos Tour Down Under with UCI men's and women's races in January, including how to present cycling in some format in South Australia in January," she said.

"We expect to be in a position to announce our decision within the next week."

Cyclingnews understands that organisers are willing to put on a charter flight for teams and riders from Singapore, with riders then having to stay in a bubble from January 2 as they serve a possible quarantine. 

Another problem is that teams would likely have to quarantine upon returning to their homes in the Europe.

Currently, Australia's borders are closed to everyone but Australian citizens, residents, family members or those who have spent the previous 14 days in New Zealand, though it is possible to apply for quarantine exemptions on a state-by-state basis.