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Will the Tour de France go ahead?

Egan Bernal (Team Ineos)
Egan Bernal in yellow at the 2019 Tour (Image credit: Getty Images)

While the Tokyo Olympic Games could be postponed for a year and the Euro 2020 football tournament has been put back until the summer of 2021, the Tour de France is still scheduled for June 27-July 19, perhaps with a stripped back set-up that safeguards the health of the riders and spectators.

The Giro d'Italia has been postponed and the Spring Classics are now likely to be held in September and October, but France’s sports minister Roxana Maracineanu has defended the importance of the Tour de France.

A report by Le Parisien claims that French government officials and race organiser ASO are studying how to hold a stripped-down version of the Tour that helps to safeguard the health of the riders, organisers and the public along the route and respect any social distancing measures that may still be in place in July.

"We are in contact with ASO,” Maracineanu told France Inter radio on Monday, while talking about the Olympic Games and other sports. "It is of paramount importance that these events can be held."

Maracineanu allowed Paris-Nice to go ahead in early March despite the spread of the coronavirus in France. The race ended a day early but was the last race held before a long series of cancellations and postponements began, decimating the spring racing season.

ASO has been tight-lipped about the chances of Tour de France going ahead, with race director Christian Prudhomme saying during Paris-Nice: "Only two world wars have stopped the Tour de France.

"It is still more than a hundred days until the start of the Tour. The hunger for the race will be immense once activities are resumed," Prudhomme added.

However, France, like other European countries, is under a strict lockdown that also stops professional riders training outdoors. Last week, five-time Tour de France winner Bernhard Hinault warned against putting on the Tour at all costs.

"Frankly, we cannot afford to say: 'We must maintain the Tour at all costs.' It's not up to me to decide and there is still time, but we have to ask ourselves if it is reasonable to let people line the roads if there are still risks. The Tour is tens of thousands of spectators every day," Hinault told Le Parisien.

The French newspaper suggests a stripped-down Tour de France would be sport-centric, perhaps in an attempt to save global television revenue and show off France to the world if the worst of the coronavirus pandemic has passed. Teams would demand special medical support in case of crashes and illness, with teams likely staying in separate hotels. 

Riders and teams have also demanded equal treatment in the build-up to a return to racing to avoid what Groupama-FDJ performance director Frédéric Grappe described as a possible 'two-speed' Tour de France. Riders in Belgium and a few other European countries can still train outdoors but Italian, Spanish and French riders are not allowed outdoors.

The possibility of holding the Tour de France under special conditions would be vital for the beleaguered teams, who spend much of the sponsorship on rider salaries. At weekend Deceuninck-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere warned of the financial problems for teams if the Tour is canceled and their sponsors decide to cut their marketing budgets.

"Organizer ASO can take a beating, the teams can't. If there is no Tour de France, the whole model of cycling can collapse," Lefevere warned.

However, it seems the leading teams have not been told of ASO's intentions, with the sport's stakeholders waiting before making any major decisions on the summer race calendar.

"We have not received any information yet," Emmanuel Hubert, the Arkéa-Samsic team manager told Le Parisien. "It is too early to decide. It is still very far."