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On a day when worldwide cases of people contracting the new coronavirus topped two million, while some 130,000 have died in this pandemic, the Union Cycliste International announced Wednesday that all the major events of the 2020 cycling season will take place between August 1 and late November. With an air of optimism, and a grain of pessimism, UCI president David Lappartient said in a video statement from his home in Brittany, France, that the principal players in the sport have agreed to race the three grand tours (starting with the Tour de France from August 29 to September 20), all five monument classics, the world road championships and as many of the other UCI WorldTour events as possible. Dates for all the races, along with those for the Women’s WorldTour and other cycling disciplines will be confirmed by May 15.
The decision to go ahead with the sport’s marquee events in the late summer and through the fall followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s address to the nation on Monday, when he said that large festivals (and similar mass gatherings) may only be held in France after mid-July. Even so, the UCI announced that some of the lesser races, including those in the new UCI ProSeries, could go ahead as early as July 1. This could include events already scheduled for July such as Belgium’s Tour de Wallonie (July 18–22) and Spain’s Vuelta a Burgos (July 28–August 1). As for WorldTour events preceding the Tour de France, the stage race most likely to go ahead is the Critérium du Dauphiné, which could be held August 9–16.
The various European national road championships are now scheduled for the weekend of August 22–23, with the Tour starting in Nice one week later. Also going ahead are the European road championships in Italy (September 9–13) and world road championships (September 20-27). As for the other grand tours, the Giro d’Italia could be held October 3–25 and the Vuelta a España November 7–29.
Scheduling all these events is one thing, but getting the riders ready to race them is another. When former French champion Laurent Jalabert was asked about Tour de France preparations by France TV Sport on Wednesday, he said: “After two months of lockdown, what is the riders’ level of form? I think that it’s very mediocre, or just average at best. There will not be much time to prepare. So it’s probable that this will be a more open Tour than all the others, with different points of reference than usual.” That could mean some surprise results, particularly in the early stages. For example, two likely Tour favorites, former grand tour winners Tom Dumoulin and Primož Roglič have not competed in any races since last year.
This could give an opening to riders such as Julian Alaphilippe, who spoke Wednesday to France 2 about the Tour actually going ahead. “To be honest I was starting to lose a little hope in view of the current health situation,” he said. “So this is an excellent leap of motivation for us, the riders…. For my part, I will be ready and I should have a lot of motivation.”
It’s also possible that the Covid-19 pandemic could scupper all these plans. Regarding starting up sports in the United States, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Vanity Fair that “if you could get on television” Major League Baseball could start July 4. “Let’s say nobody comes to the stadium. You just do it. I mean people say, ‘Well, you can’t play without spectators.’ Well, I think you’d probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game.” He then added that the players would have to be sequestered in hotels and tested every week to “make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family.”
That’s also a concern in cycling, where even one rider testing positive for the coronavirus could cause races to be cancelled completely. The same applies to spectators at the roadside. But, for now, there seems to be an optimistic outcome for the sport we love.