The opening stages of the 2020 Vuelta a España in the Netherlands have been cancelled, with organisers citing the "exceptional worldwide situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Before the effects of the pandemic began to take hold in Europe, the 2020 Vuelta was due to have had three stages in the Netherlands, starting in Utrecht on Friday August 14 before riders flew south to the Basque Country on the Monday for the remainder of the three-week Grand Tour in Spain and Portugal.
Those three Netherlands stages remained in place when the Vuelta was postponed – along with the rest of the cycling calendar – to a new slot in the late autumn after the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia. However on Wednesday morning, Vuelta organiser Unipublic announced that "due to the exceptional situation caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the organising committee of La Vuelta Holanda has been forced to cancel the official departure of the race from the Dutch regions of Utrecht and North Brabant.
"The departure of La Vuelta 20 from Holland was a project that had been designed as a big summer party. Faced with the impossibility of ensuring the planned development of the race’s official departure, with all of the required guarantees for an event of these characteristics, La Vuelta Holanda has preferred to request the official departure’s cancellation."
The local head of the Vuelta organisation in Holland, Martijn van Hulsteijn, stated that a combination of logistical issues, including autumn road works in many of the towns through which the race was due to pass, had contributed to the decision. Utrecht mayor Jan Van Zanen added that "We have concluded there is too much uncertainty about the development of the coronavirus. A huge disappointment, but health comes first."
The Vuelta’s decision has strong echoes of one of the earliest casualties of the coronavirus pandemic: the 2020 Giro d’Italia’s three-day start in Hungary. With the Giro now expected to take place in October, the race organisers have still to confirm if those stages will be replaced in southern Italy before linking up with the originally planned route in Sicily, or if three stages are simply cut from the three-week race.
There has been widespread speculation that the Vuelta may now simply start on the Tuesday and so include just 18 stages. In that case, the opening stage would be from Irun to a finish on Mount Arrate, with local towns showing guarded enthusiasm for the Vuelta start there even despite the change of dates to the autumn.
There has been no mention yet by race organisers on whether the two stages in the third week in Portugal may also be affected by the change of dates. According to official figures, Spain has been one of the worst affected countries by coronavirus, although plans have been released on Tuesday by the government for a progressive easing of the current lockdown, concluding at the end of June. Social distancing measures, though, are expected to remain in effect for considerably longer.
The Vuelta has already had one start in the Netherlands, back in 2009, and organisers say they are now studying the idea of shifting the planned 2020 start to 2022. The Vuelta is set to start in the northern Spanish city of Burgos in 2021.
Further details from the Vuelta’s organiser Javier Guillen, are expected later on Wednesday.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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