When the IOC announced the 2021 event schedule for the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games on Friday, the elite men's road race was still set for July 24 - one day before the end of the Tour de France. The date puts the world's best climbers in an impossible situation: focus on cycling's biggest race and the big moneymaker for their trade team sponsors or target gold for their nation on the mountainous Tokyo circuit. French national coach Thomas Voeckler says the conflict is 'extremely problematic' for the elite men.
"Honestly, it's a more than complicated situation," Voeckler told RMC Sport. The Frenchman retired from pro cycling in 2017 and in 2019 took over as national team manager from Cyrille Guimard.
"We have known for a long time that the route of the Olympic Games is intended for a climber. The best climbers will be at the Tour de France. To ask them to skip the Tour for a hypothetical result is almost mission impossible. We still have hope that things will not stay as they are and that a solution will be found."
The ASO has asked the organisers of the Copenhagen Grand Depart, scheduled for July 2, to push the race a week earlier but the local organisers turned the request down because of a conflict with the European Football championship rounds being held there. Meanwhile, on Friday, the IOC announced the schedule with the date conflict with the Tour still intact.
The overlap seriously impacts the French men's team, with Julian Alaphilippe both a medal favourite for Tokyo and a key rider for his Deceuninck-Quickstep team at the Tour.
"I saw that it would not change. Is this a firm and irrevocable decision? I don't know," Voeckler says. "If it stays as it is, it will be extremely problematic for France and the other nations, and both for the Tour and the value of the Olympic road race."
Although the Olympic Games are valuable to nations who rely on medalists to bring in funding for their Olympic sports programmes, the Tour de France is far more valuable for trade teams whose sponsors rely on the race for exposure. Those sponsors pay the riders' salaries.
"Even if there is a culture of Olympism in road cycling, sponsors have far more media coverage on the Tour than on the Olympic race," Voeckler says. "The vast majority of sponsors will ask their best riders and their best climbers to be present on the Tour rather than the Olympics if there is a choice to be made. I am convinced of that and it would be logical.
"What would also be logical is to also have the best riders in the world in the Olympic road race. We will have to find a solution. It is a huge sacrifice to ask a rider to skip the Tour. We cannot even ask it. Riders will go where they prefer. The Tour and the Olympics are a dream come true. But on the Tour, you have three weeks to express yourself. On the Olympics, only three places are beautiful."
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