Cycing: Tour de France could be held without spectators due to coronavirus pandemic

Geraint Thomas competing at the Tour de France.
Geraint Thomas competing at the Tour de France. Photo credit: Getty

This year's Tour de France may still go ahead, despite the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, but without roadside spectators.

Following the postponement of the Euro 2020 soccer championships and Tokyo Olympics, the Tour de France, scheduled for June and July, is one of the last major global sporting events not yet cancelled or postponed.

"The Tour is a sports monument," French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu tweeted. "It is too soon to decide.

"There is a time for everything. For now, we have a more urgent battle to fight.

"Let us focus on this mountain in front of us and then consider what's next."

Since the Tour's inception in 1903, only the two World Wars have forced organisers to cancel the race.

A sports ministry spokeswoman told Reuters that the ministry was monitoring the pandemic's evolution.

"There is no rush to decide today," she said, 92 days before the Tour's scheduled June 27 start in Nice, with the finish in Paris on July 19.

In an interview with radio station France Bleu, Maracineanu said one option would be to organise a Tour without roadside spectators.

"The Tour's economic model is not based on ticket sales, but on TV rights," she said. "During this period of confinement, everybody is aware of the risks and responsible.

"People understand the benefits of staying home and watching the event on TV, rather than live. It would not be too detrimental to follow the Tour on TV."

The Tour attracts more than 10 million spectators along France's roads every year and is broadcast globally.

But Marc Madiot, the president of the French cycling league and director of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team, said policing a Tour without spectators would be difficult.

"How would you stop the public from attending?" he said.

France's 67 million people have broadly respected the conditions of an unprecedented peacetime lockdown, but few sports stir the passions of French sports enthusiasts more than cycling.

Moreover, riders often race large parts of a stage in closely-packed groups and team members live in close proximity to one another for nearly a month in hotels, travelling together on buses and aeroplanes that shuttle them between stages.

Teams are already grappling with how to keep their riders fit, after the cycling season was suspended last week. All races up until the end of April have been cancelled.

"As long as we are not allowed to get out on the road, it is hard to think about getting in shape for the event," AG2R-La Mondiale rider Romain Bardet told France Bleu.

Reuters

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