Tour de France yet to be postponed

AP Photo
21 Comments

PARIS — Perhaps no other sports event puts so many fans in such close contact with athletes as the Tour de France, with swarms of people clogging city streets, winding roads and soaring mountain passes during cycling’s three-week showpiece and getting within touching distance of the riders.

And yet, unlike almost every other major sporting event this summer, including the Tokyo Olympics, the Tour has yet to be called off despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

For now, the start date remains June 27 – and there is a possibility that the race could be held without any fans lining the course.

France’s sports minister Roxana Mărăcineanu said the Tour can still exist in a time of social distancing.

“The economic model of the Tour de France does not rely on ticket sales but on TV rights and media broadcasting,” Mărăcineanu told France Bleu radio on Wednesday evening. “Everyone has understood the benefits of staying at home and prioritizing the televised spectacle. In the end, it would not be so disadvantageous because we could watch it on television.”

But it would be a Tour unlike any other.

The race, which was first held in 1903, is synonymous with images of thousands of crammed-in spectators stuck together like glue on winding ascents up the Alps, cheering on the riders as they go past.

On the final day of the race, a ceremonial ride into Paris, legions of yellow-jersey wearing spectators normally amass behind steel barriers along the Champs-Élysées: several banks deep and shoulder to shoulder, with fast-turning heads catching a glimpse of the winner flashing past.

Millions of fans watch each year’s race in a festive atmosphere stretching across all areas of France. This year’s race has 21 stages, where fans traditionally stand watching all along the way, and the longest is 218 kilometers (135 miles).

Thousands of police officers are needed to keep crowds under control and help negotiate safe passage for riders from 22 teams, with several often sharing hotels.

Enforcing a lockdown everywhere along the route for three weeks seems difficult – if not impossible – given that groups of people could appear from anywhere at any point.

One of cycling’s big attractions is that fans get so close to the riders, running alongside them up climbs and sometimes giving them a helpful push in the back on the toughest ones.

Sometimes they get much too close.

Two years ago, former champion Vincenzo Nibali crashed into a police motorbike on a narrow street lined with spectators and later abandoned the race. Four-time champion Chris Froome has been spat on and had urine thrown on him.

Mărăcineanu is in regular talks with Amaury Sport Organisation – the Tour organizer – but says it’s “still too early” to predict what will happen. On her Twitter account she added: “there is a time for everything. Right now, we have a a more urgent battle to fight.”

On Tuesday the International Olympic Committee postponed the Tokyo Games to next year. Likewise soccer’s European Championship, held in several countries, moved to 2021. Another major cycling race, the Giro d’Italia in May, was postponed this month.

Organizers of Wimbledon meet next week to decide on this year’s tennis tournament, scheduled for June 29-July 12. The French Open, normally in late May and June, is pushed back to Sept. 20-Oct. 4.

Tour organizers declined to comment Thursday when asked whether plans to host the race as planned this summer have changed, or whether a race without fans could be an option.

The last time the Tour was not held was in 1946, with the nation emerging from the second world war. It was also stopped during WWI.

Five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault – the last Frenchman to win the race – cautioned against it going ahead amid the uncertainty of how long the epidemic will last.

“There’s a crazy illness which is spreading and, if it happens to last months, we shouldn’t hesitate to call it off,” he said in an interview with French daily Le Parisien on March 18. “We should ask ourselves if it’s reasonable to allow people to go out on the roads if there’s still a risk … The Tour de France is a fantastic party. But it’s less important than life.”

Giro d’Italia to start on former railway line in Abruzzo

Getty Images
5 Comments

L’AQUILA, Italy — The 2023 edition of the Giro d’Italia will start with an individual time trial on a coastal cycle path that has been recreated from a former railway line in the region of Abruzzo.

At a ceremony in the Abruzzo capital of L’Aquila, race organizers announced that the Grand Tour will run from May 6-28 and begin with an 18.4-kilometer (11.4-mile) time trial on the Adriatic coast.

Almost the entire time trial will be on the spectacular Costa dei Trabocchi cycle path that hugs the coast line before a short climb to the finish in Ortona.

“I am excited at the idea of the Grande Partenza (Big Start) of the Giro in Abruzzo . It is a dream come true, especially with regard to the prologue on the Costa dei Trabocchi,” said Trek-Segafredo cyclist Dario Cataldo, who is from the region.

“I well remember that when the cycle path project was born and I saw the first tracks, I imagined the beauty of a Giro d’Italia passing along the route. It looked perfect.”

Stage 2 is a 204-kilometer (127-mile) leg from Teramo to San Salvo that is hilly in the first part but expected to end in a bunch sprint.

Stage 3 will also start in the Abruzzo region, in Vasto, but it will then head south and will be detailed when the full route is revealed on Oct. 17 in Milan.

The Giro will also return to the region for Stage 7, a daunting climb on the Gran Sasso d’Italia to Campo Imperatore. The high mountain stage, on May 12, will be the edition’s first finish above 2,000 meters.

Australian Jai Hindley won this year’s Giro.

Norway takes gold-medal lead at world road cycling titles

CYCLING-AUS-ROAD-WORLD
Getty Images
9 Comments

WOLLONGONG, Australia – Soren Waerenskjold repeated Norway’s gold medal success at the world road cycling championships a day after Tobias Foss finished first in the elite men’s time trial.

Waerenskjold won the men’s under-23 time trial on the second day of the championships with a dominant performance. He clocked 34 minutes, 13.40 seconds over the 28.8-kilometer course to beat Belgian Alec Segaert by 16.34 seconds.

British rider Leo Hayter, the younger brother of elite rider Ethan Hayter, was 24.16 seconds off the pace for the bronze medal.

Foss beat a strong field to win the elite time trial, the biggest win of his career.

Norway has two gold medals, while Dutch ace Ellen van Dijk beat Australian Grace Brown to take out the women’ elite time trial.

The mixed relay time trial is set for Wednesday. The championships conclude on the weekend with the women’s road race on Saturday and the men’s on Sunday.