UPDATED Should The Tour de France Have Been Cancelled?

The organisers of the world's biggest sporting event seem intent on carrying on with it... Molly Hurford isn't quite sure that is appropriate.


By Molly Hurford |

With the spread of coronavirus forcing the postponement or cancellation of many major sporting events in the world, one cycling race stands strong in its resolve to run in the summer of 2020: the Tour de France.

 

The Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) still hasn’t made any announcements or statements about how the world’s biggest cycling race, scheduled to run from June 27 to July 19, could be impacted by the global pandemic—and that’s a huge mistake on their part. Putting on the Tour as planned this year would not only promote dangerous behaviour for the participating riders, as training and traveling in many parts of the world is unsafe right now, but it also sends the wrong message to the cycling community.

 

Right now, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has halted racing until June 1. While the Tour’s late-June start date seems like an eternity away, for a pro cyclist, it’s pretty damn close—especially considering that some cyclists are currently in locked-down countries, only able to ride their trainers in their small apartments.

 

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Organisers of the Tour de France say that an official decision will be rendered by mid-May, according to a report from RTBF, but that’s entirely too long to wait. Reportedly, a month-long postponement is being considered, but even shifting the start into late July from the current start date of June 27 feels too early to consider hosting the biggest cycling race in the world. We all saw what happened when coronavirus struck the UAE Tour in late February. The Olympics and Paralympics, originally set to start in late July and August, respectively, have already been postponed until Summer 2021. So, what is the ASO waiting for?

 

Training at the level required of pro cyclists puts a strain on the health and safety of the riders who are getting race-ready. Around the world, the message is clear: Stay home. But racers need to be putting in multiple eight-plus-hour rides each week, tackling the area’s biggest climbs, pushing their bodies increasingly harder and harder in order to prepare for the Tour. We know that while exercise can boost immunity when done at a moderate level, pushing beyond that and into the space occupied by professional riders puts them on the razor’s edge of health, teetering between over-trained and race-ready. This is not the time that an athlete wants to tank his immune system—and that doesn’t even take into account the potential problem of if a racer is injured during a training ride and needs to go to the hospital.

 

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This disparity in riders’ abilities to train right now will likely stretch into May and June. Riders can maintain their fitness by training inside and putting in big miles on Zwift Island (like Geraint Thomas), but the technical descending from mountain passes at terrifying speeds exemplifies Tour racing at its finest. All fitness inequalities aside, if riders haven’t ridden outside in weeks, should the Tour de France really be their first race back?

Current travel restrictions and advisories pose issues, as well. Teams often arrive in Europe well in advance of the Tour, but closed country borders and the recommendation to self-quarantine upon entering new countries will make that difficult. There’s a chance that riders and staff who are currently not in the EU won’t be able to get to the start line, and teams will have to scramble.

Personally, while I like to believe that cycling has cleaned up, it still makes me uncomfortable that most testing has been suspending due to COVID-19 concerns.

If the Tour is run on a course closed to spectators, it will be impossible to completely lock it down. It’s not just the riders contending for the title who will be showing up—teams include coaches, drivers, soigneurs, managers, nutritionists, chefs, plus race officials, loads of cycling and national media outlets, and the families of the riders, all coming in from different countries. Several thousand people involved are involved, even with spectators nixed from the agenda.

 

Economic issues for different teams may also decimate the start list. Sure, it’s hard to feel sorry for the top tier of pro racing, but teams rely on companies—cycling and non-cycling—who have no doubt been impacted by the pandemic. Mounting a Tour de France team costs millions, which is difficult to imagine in times like this.

 

Additionally, it’s worth noting: Doping controls have been lax during this time. WADA President Witold Bańka has said, “The anti-doping community has banded together to adjust its daily operations by suspending or reducing some of its programs, including testing and other activities… We will get through this situation and everyone hopes that we can return the global anti-doping system to full power as soon as we emerge.” Personally, while I like to believe that cycling has cleaned up, it still makes me uncomfortable that most testing has been suspending due to COVID-19 concerns. So frankly, until that time, forgive me if I’m slightly sceptical.

 

Lastly, if it does run, it’s just going to be a weird race. If there are no other major races on the calendar before Le Grand Depart—and how can there be?—it’s pretty hard to fathom a great Tour de France. The disparity in who’s been able to train outside and who hasn’t will be apparent from the first stage. With no spectators lining the road in costumes, the footage won’t be as fun or compelling. And how will we enjoy the drone fly-over footage with nothing designed in the crops?

 

Let’s be realistic: Even if the COVID-19 crisis has shifted from the current levels of lockdown into what I’ll call ‘maintenance mode’ by then, it could take months for life to get back to normal, especially when contemplating a massive competition that brings riders from around the world into France.

 

Yes, it’s hard to imagine a summer without Le Tour. It hasn’t been cancelled since World War II. But what we’re dealing with now is every bit as serious as a war, and to pretend that it’s not, to not show leadership, and make the tough decision to cancel or to dramatically postpone the event, is disgraceful.

 

TOUR DE FRANCE UPDATE – 5 April 2020

It’s Official—the 2020 Tour de France Has Been Postponed
  • Race organiser Amaury Sport Organisation announced on Tuesday that the 2020 Tour de France will be postponed. Earlier on Tuesday, French president Emmanuel Macron canceled all large public events until mid-July.
  • This is the first time since World War II that the race has not been held as scheduled, and there is currently no new date set for the Tour de France.

After a slew of professional cycling race cancelations and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, another major sporting event has been called—the Tour de France, originally slated for June 27 through July 19, will not happen this summer as planned.

Race organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.) announced the news today, saying that it had little choice in the matter after French President Emmanuel Macron canceled all public events with crowds through mid-July.

“Given that it’s now impossible that the Tour starts at its planned date, we are consulting with the (International Cycling Union) to try and find new dates,” race organizers said, according to the Associated Press.

It’s a historic moment for the cycling world and the revered Grand Tour—this is the only time the Tour de France has been canceled during peacetime since its inception in 1903. Previously, the Tour wasn’t held during World War I and WWII.

Though it’s undoubtedly sad, the decision ultimately falls in line with the reality that the world is facing as it combats the pandemic. Race organisers held out on the matter of postponement as long as they could (maybe too long?); by comparison, the Tokyo Olympics, which were scheduled to start the week after the Tour finished, were postponed three weeks ago.

According to the French sport minister, Roxana Maracineanu, A.S.O. first played around with the idea of holding the race without spectators. But even without spectators, holding the race without any kind of large gathering (peloton anyone?), while trying to guarantee the health and safety of the cyclists and everyone else involved, would have been a logistical nightmare, if not simply impossible.

The race organisers, along with the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), have already voiced their hopes of rescheduling the many canceled races, now including the Tour, for later this season.

“The UCI has made it a priority to establish a new calendar, in particular when it comes to the Grand Tours and the Monuments, with a view to the resumption of the 2020 season,” the UCI stated in a press release last month.

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