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Following the UCI’s announcement on Wednesday of a totally revised 2020 race calendar, Peloton reached out to Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel to learn about his plans for the races that have had to be canceled by the coronavirus pandemic. Surprisingly, knowing that more people have died from Covid-19 in Belgium (over 5,000) than in much larger countries (such as Germany, Iran and China), Van Den Spiegel said: “We would still like to get all of our canceled races on the calendar, and we believe that is possible if the current date of the Tour de France (August 29–September 20) can be respected. If not, then we and the other organizers will have to make choices.”
Words by John Wilcockson; Images by Chris Auld
The five spring classics that Van Den Spiegel has had to cancel are Ghent–Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders (“De Ronde”), Scheldeprijs and Brabantse Pijl—with the Ronde said to be taking place on Sunday, October 11, which would be during the period when a rearranged Giro d’Italia might be taking place. When we asked about this clash of dates and the likelihood that potential classics contenders would be racing a grand tour, so making Flanders less competitive, Van Den Spiegel did not agree. “It might make the grand tours less competitive,” he said with a smile. “We think our races, and especially De Ronde, will attract a great field in any case. It is normal that given the current circumstances we will have to deal with double schedules. At the same time, every WorldTour team has around 28 riders so there is a need for as many races as possible.”
Following up, we asked him if the potential date clash with the Giro would mean far less publicity and a smaller TV audience for the Tour of Flanders. With confidence, Van Den Spiegel replied, “De Ronde is considered the biggest one-day race in the world and we are pretty convinced it will not very much suffer because of the competition.” But wouldn’t the Ronde suffer financially, because a big part of its promotion is food and drink revenue from the thousands of spectators? “We will be open to all scenarios,” he said, “but we are prone towards a ‘light’ version of races, which would mean reduced or no fan and hospitality zones.”
As it is, with Belgium on stay-at-home lockdown and August 1 being the earliest date that restrictions on large gatherings can be lifted, we asked the Flanders Classics CEO if he would be able to complete in time all the complex planning necessary for what is his country’s largest sporting event. “We think we could,” he replied, “as technology for virtual meetings is nearly as good as the real thing. We will need some weeks, of course, before the events to organize and plan that will require leaving our houses. Hopefully by then we will be allowed to do so.” He added that he is in constant talks with the UCI, the teams, his own work colleagues, other race promoters and the Flanders government.
The big question facing not only the classics but the whole of the sport is: Can any bike racing take place this year? “Economically, I believe it is important for cycling in general that we still try to organize as many races as possible in 2020, both for organizers and teams,” Van Den Spiegel said. “But we need to be realistic and take into account that we might have to skip 2020 and go straight to 2021. But then, the financial consequences will be huge for all parties.”