PARIS: Staging the Tour de France this year despite the novel coronavirus pandemic was vital for road cycling, the race’s director Christian Prudhomme said on Wednesday.
The sport’s governing International Cycling Union (UCI) announced that the Tour, initially due to be held from June 27-July 19, would be staged from Aug. 29-Sept. 20 amid measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
“We started to talk about a postponement to the local politicians as soon as March 18 — a day after France was put in lockdown — and all of them were on board,” Prudhomme told Reuters in an interview.
“Everyone in the world of cycling supported the idea, even those who usually don’t like us. Some teams said they would have to close down without the Tour in 2020.
“The Tour is the base of the revised calendar.”
Sponsors usually invest in cycling teams for the broad TV exposure and the Tour de France is one of the world’s most watched events, after the Summer Olympics and the soccer World Cup.
With no elite racing before August, cycling teams and sponsors have been dramatically hit financially by the coronoavirus, which has infected over 2 million people worldwide and brought the world of sport to a standstill.
The Tour route will remain 99% unchanged with a Grand Depart from Nice and the traditional final parade on Paris’s Champs-Elysees.
“The only thing we might have to change sometimes is when we go through bigger cities,” said Prudhomme, who on Tuesday called 49 local politicians to inform them that the Tour dates had been changed.
The 2020 summer holidays are due to end on Sept. 1 in France, where public events have been banned until mid-July although French president Emmanuel Macron said the confinement would be progressively lifted from May 11.
Asked about potential safety measures due to the coronavirus outbreak, Prudhomme said the Tour organizers would adapt.
“We will follow recommendations, just like we did for Paris-Nice in March. At the start, gatherings of more than 5,000 were banned and after a couple of days we had to adapt because the maximum was 1,000,” he said.
Prudhomme added that earlier dates for the Tour in August had been considered before being ruled out.
“Riders need a couple of months to get ready for an event like the Tour. Four, five or six weeks to train on roads and then we should have a few stage races before the Tour,” he said.
It means the Criterium du Dauphine, a traditional warm-up race for the Tour, is expected to be held sometime in August, Prudhomme said, even if it could be shorter, “maybe five or six days instead of eight.”
“Having the Tour in September is also a better month for the hotel industry,” he added.
Hotels are traditionally packed in August and at least 4,500 people are usually working on the Tour de France, which will be followed by the world championships, Italy’s Giro and Spain’s Vuelta, the UCI said in a statement.
The governing body added it was also working on new dates for the top one-day races — Milan-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour