Organisers of the Tour of Flanders and the mayor of the finishing city of Oudenaarde announced extreme measure to keep the public away from the race in light of surging cases of COVID-19 across Belgium. The public will be prohibited from 22 'safety zones' - including the start at the Steenplein in Antwerp, the finish in Oudenaarde, and on key climbs and cobblestone sections along the course.
The closures include the final circuit around Oudenaarde that includes the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, as well as the Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg and Kruisberg and earlier climbs of the Katteberg, Kortekeer, Eikenberg, Wolvenberg, Leberg, Berendries and Valkenberg and the Holleweg, Haaghoek, Lippenhovestraat and Paddestraat cobbled sectors.
Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel said the measures send a firm message to cycling fans: "There will be a race if people stay at home. We must count on people to stay at home, that it will be a Tour of Flanders without an audience."
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The move follows the cancellation of the Amstel Gold Race and the reduction of Wednesday's Scheldeprijs to a kermess-like 17.3km circuit around Schoten because of restrictions against sporting activities in the Netherlands.
As yet, Belgium has not followed its neighbor in calling off sports but there are still five days until the Tour of Flanders and the coronavirus situation is devolving rapidly.
The organisers are hoping to be given the green light to hold the men's and women's WorldTour races on a tightly-controlled race course, with only nearby residents allowed to stand along the course, and even then they must wear masks. In the Flemish Ardennes, spectators must remain 1.5 meters away from the road and, if that is not possible, the road will be closed to spectators.
"We can be proud that we are all able to continue the Tour of Flanders, especially in the current climate. We need these kinds of events," Van Den Spiegel said.
East Flemish Governor Carina Van Cauter urged fans to stay home. "It will be a limited edition this year. In the figurative and literal sense of the word: it is an edition with limitations, but also a unique edition that we will remember for a long time to come. because we will experience them all from home," she said.
"Save the Tour and stay at home! Experience the race at home, in front of the screen or on the radio, and do that with your family or the people with whom you live under the same roof."
Van Cauter prohibited parties, saying that police will strictly enforce the rule, with violators facing up to €250 fines.
After the Giro d'Italia had several high-profile COVID-19 positives from favourites Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), with both teams exiting the race. Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb departed after a positive test on Monday's rest day, although Sunweb elected to keep racing as a team. Van Den Spiegel is confident teams are on high alert ahead of the Tour of Flanders.
"We are convinced that these teams are working hard towards the Tour this week, dealing very strictly with the bubble and still testing, so that everything this weekend will be safe. We are also working on that by testing all our staff this week. "
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