The Tour de France has been officially postponed to 29 August owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, and will finish on 20 September, the organisers Amaury Sport Organisation confirmed on Wednesday. Shifting the centrepiece of the cycling calendar will involve a delicate juggling act with the other two Grand Tours, the Vuelta a España and the world road championships, and the five “monument” one-day Classics all jostling for space at the end of the season when it is hoped that major sports events in Europe will resume following the Covid-19 lockdown.
The news was greeted with delight by the four-times champion Chris Froome, who confirmed this week that he has largely recovered from the accident which cost him a ride in the 2019 race. “The news many of us have been waiting for,” he said through Twitter. “Some light at the end of the tunnel – assuming all goes well.” Apart from during the two world wars, the Tour has never been cancelled, and many in France will see plans for its resumption as a sign that life may return to normal after the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was glad to hear that the Tour will take place at a later date,” said the prominent French cyclist Julian Alaphilippe. “There may be fewer people watching but it will still be a huge fête with lots of joy and motivation.” The Tour will stick to the route scheduled from 27 June, starting in Nice, heading west through the Massif Central to the Pyrenees before looping back to the Alps.
“Holding this event in the best conditions possible is judged essential given its central place in cycling’s economy and its exposure, in particular for the teams that benefit on this occasion from unparalleled visibility,” said a statement from the Union Cycliste Internationale. A rejigged calendar for the UCI Women’s WorldTour is expected by 15 May, with all WorldTour events now cancelled until 1 August.
The UCI also confirmed that the road race world championships in Switzerland will take place immediately after the Tour. The men’s elite time trial title is currently scheduled for 20 September and will clash with the Tour finish in Paris, potentially creating a dilemma for riders who might target both events such as Froome and Holland’s Tom Dumoulin. However, the men’s elite road race is pencilled in for 27 September.
The official release from the UCI said that both the Giro and the Vuelta would take place after the world championships; initial signs are that the Giro may be moved to October, with the Vuelta in November.
National road race championships were scheduled for the weekend of 20-21 June, and will – presumably depending on the situation in individual countries – be held on the weekend of 22-23 August. The UCI is still looking for new dates for the five biggest one-day races in the sport, the “Monuments”: Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia.
The decision to move all major events on the international cycling calendar to the end of the season follows confirmation on Monday by the French president Emmanuel Macron that France’s lockdown would continue until 11 May and that major events bringing together large groups of people would not be possible until mid-July at the earliest. That made the postponement of the Tour inevitable, and the need for at least some preparation events for the 22-day race meant that rescheduling until the end of July would not have been practical.
There was an initial suggestion shortly after France entered lockdown that the Tour might be held “behind closed doors” with strict limitations on the number of spectators, but this was not warmly received by officials in the stage towns who pay for starts and finishes on the understanding that large numbers of fans will bring in large amounts of revenue.
Officials from the Tour’s stage towns – around 50 of them according to one source – were called on Tuesday to discuss the move prior to a teleconference on Wednesday morning involving the race organisers, teams and the UCI.
The new schedule should give time to the Tour’s cyclists to get out on their home roads to train as lockdowns are lifted, because at present some – in the UK and Belgium for example – can ride on the road whereas this is banned in France, Spain and Italy. “It’s the best solution to allow the riders to get their act together,” said the Groupama-FDJ team manager Marc Madiot. “Cycling needs the Tour but the Tour needs cyclists who are in decent condition.”