PARIS (Reuters) – Cycling teams are gearing up for the Tour de France to be held in August rather than the usual July, after French President Emmanuel Macron said big public events would be halted until mid-July as the country fights the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marc Madiot, president of the French cycling league and director of the Groupama–FDJ cycling team, said Macron’s comments, which included extending measures to slow the coronavirus outbreak, paved the way for the Tour to be held in August.
“Based on what he told us, it seems conceivable to hold the Tour de France in the course of August,” he told Reuters.
French newspaper Le Dauphine Libere reported later on Tuesday that the Tour would run from Aug. 29-Sept. 20.
A source with direct knowledge of the matter said that the UCI, cycling’s governing body, would need to approve any new dates for the Tour.
Thousands of fans gather along the roadside every day to watch the Tour and urge on the riders during the three-week race, posing a risk of spreading the virus further among the public and the cycling teams alike.
An email seen by Reuters on Saturday and sent to the publishers of the official Tour programme showed the organisers were focusing on postponing rather than cancelling the race, which had been scheduled for June 27-July 19.
The organisers, who had no immediate comment on Tuesday, told German news agency dpa that the dates initially announced would not be possible and that they were working on postponing the event.
After the postponement of the Euro 2020 soccer finals and the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Tour de France – which usually takes place in June and July – is one of the last major sporting events not to have been officially moved this year.
Since the Tour’s inception in 1903, only the two world wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 have forced organisers to cancel the race.
The head of the French cycling league said teams would need to be allowed to train outdoors before the end of the lockdown period, however. Cycling outdoors has been restricted in France to crack down on the virus.
“Our boys need to be able to train. The longer we’re under lockdown, the longer they will need to get back in shape,” Madiot said. “People think cycling outdoors is just to go for a ride, but we have to be on the road for work.”
Participants said holding the Tour and avoiding a cancellation was crucial for the teams’ financial survival.
“It’s not too late today,” Vincent Lavenu, AG2R-La Mondiale team manager, said. He also believed the Tour was likely to be pushed back into August, even to the end of the month. “What’s essential is that the Tour is held,” he added.
He said sponsorship income from road racing’s biggest event amounted to 60% or even 70% of teams’ worldwide revenue.
“That’s huge and essential to the survival of teams,” Lavenu said.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Additional reporting Richard Martin; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Ken Ferris and Toby Davis)