Tour de France could be staged this summer without any spectators

By on March 27, 2020


Professional cycling reacted with a mix of cautious optimism and scepticism after the French sports minister, Roxana M?r?cineau, confirmed that together with the Tour de France organisers ASO, her officials were exploring ways of running a scaled down Tour with restrictions on spectator access this summer even though the country is currently in lockdown to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

With the Olympic Games and Euro 2020 already cancelled, the Tour is one of very few major events remaining – for the time being – on this summer’s sporting calendar. Reports on Thursday suggested that a deadline of 1 May seems likely for a decision on the Tour, because it will be clear by then whether the outbreak has peaked in France, and because that would give a clear two months for cyclists to prepare for the race. A representative of ASO contacted by the Guardian said the company had no comment to make.

“There needs to be a Tour de France. After that, it is the state of public health which will determine how viable that is,” said the Groupama-FDJ manager, Marc Madiot. Madiot’s team leader Thibaut Pinot, whose parents are both involved in the fight against the virus, told the website cyclingnews.com that, “the question is not whether the Tour de France can take place at any cost or not. My concern lies mainly in the fact that if we cancel the Tour de France, it would mean that the pandemic has not stopped.”

From Belgium, Patrick Lefevere, the head of the sport’s most successful team, Deceuninck-Quickstep, was dismissive, saying: “I’m an optimist, but I don’t see how they can justify running the Tour de France. What about the fans? Who can enter France and who can’t? Are we really going to stuff the hotels with people? I can’t imagine someone waving a magic wand in early July and the coronavirus crisis suddenly being resolved.”

“As long as public health can be guaranteed,” the head of the Sunweb team, Iwan Spekenbrink, told the Le Monde newspaper, “I can see this being the race that restarts the cycling season, even if it will have to be guaranteed that everyone has a minimum amount of time to train for it.”



The peloton ride the Champs-Elysees at the end of the 2019 Tour. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

ASO and the French sports ministry worked together to ensure that the first major stage race of the year, Paris-Nice, went ahead in early March in an atmosphere of tension as European nations began to close their borders and impose lockdowns as the crisis deepened. Spectators were not permitted at the race starts and finishes, or on major climbs, and the daily ritual of riders signing on was abandoned.

Certain teams decided not to start, and others withdraw during the race amidst concerns for the health of their riders and staff, and on the logistics of getting riders and staff back to their homes. The race ended a day early to avoid a finish in the centre of Nice.

M?r?cineau told a French radio station on Wednesday that the Tour might be feasible in a restricted form because it does not rely on ticket sales but on television rights for the bulk of its income. “Everything is imaginable,” she said. “Everyone knows the reasons and the benefits that it can bring to all. So finally it wouldn’t be so bad because you could still watch it on TV.”

She added that she was well aware that the Tour was the principal showcase for cycling team sponsors, and that the survival of professional cycling itself might be at stake. “Cancelling the Tour would be a real problem, even if it was for only a year. But for the moment it’s too early to take a decision.”

As the biggest ticketless sports event in the world, the Tour draws between 10 and 12 million spectators to its roadsides during the season, prompting obvious questions about the practicality of running the race “behind closed doors”, although many of those spectators come from outside France and might be deterred by closed borders. But at least the 2020 Tour itself does not cross any of those frontiers, as it takes place entirely within France after its start on 27 June in Nice.

The Tour calls upon 29,000 members of French security forces during its 22 days, with at least one gendarme on every road junction along the route and access restrictions have at times been imposed on some major climbs to avoid overcrowding. Recently, amidst fears of terrorism, security measures at the event have been massively increased.

If the Tour were to go ahead, it would not be the first time that the French state has ensured this. In 1968, immediately after the country had been through a period of public disorder and protest, the Tour organiers were considering cancelling the race but were told by the government that they wanted it to go ahead to underline that normal life was still going on.



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