Uncertainty hangs over France's early-season races

Tour de la Provence 2020 - 5th Edition - 4th stage Avignon - Aix-en-Provence 170,5 km - 16/02/2020 - Nairo Quintana (COL - Team Arkea Samsic) - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2020
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Just days before the French road racing season is due to get underway, the organisers of the opening three races on the calendar are still awaiting official confirmation that the events will be able to go ahead against a backdrop of existing and possibly even increased COVID-related restrictions. 

The season is scheduled to start with the GP La Marseillaise this coming Sunday (January 31), followed by the Étoile de Bessèges (February 3-7) and the Tour de la Provence (February 11-14).

"We sent our dossier away to be signed off on Monday and we’re now awaiting authorisation to be given by the prefecture," Bessèges organiser Corinne Fangille told Le Parisien (opens in new tab)

"According to what we’ve heard, even if there is a new lockdown, professional sport should be able to continue. So we’re waiting for decisions to be made on Wednesday or Thursday."

France currently has a nationwide curfew in place between six in the evening and six the next morning in order to check the spread of the coronavirus. However, during the last few days, French ministers had indicated that a third lockdown might be imposed as a result of the steadily rising number of infections and hospital admissions.

Yet it now appears that president Emmanuel Macron won’t make an address to the French people on Wednesday to announce a tightening of restrictions, as had been rumoured. Latest reports suggest that Macron and his government will review the situation again this coming weekend, which should at least enable the GP Marseillaise to take place as planned.

"We’ve been saying that it would be better for this 43rd edition to take place behind closed doors rather than not at all," GP Marseillaise organiser Pierre Guille explained to Le Parisien. "The worst thing would be not to fulfil the date. It would be much harder to come back after that."

Like Guille, Bessèges organiser Corinne Fangille, who took on the role after her father and race founder Roland Fangille died after contracting COVID-19 in November, is hoping that receipts from TV revenue will enable the race to maintain its stability and place on the calendar. 

"We’ve become our own producers and we’re planning to sell the TV rights to L’Équipe TV and foreign networks," she said. "I hope that will enable us to cover our costs."

Tour de la Provence organiser Pierre-Maurice Courtade faces an even more difficult task as that race is set to take place in four different departments and, therefore, requires authorisation from four separate prefectures. 

"We’ve had a sword of Damocles hanging over us for a month and every Thursday we’ve listened to the government’s announcements hoping that we’re not going to hear bad news," he said, stressing that each of the prefectures has been very supportive of the race going ahead.

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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).