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Coronavirus: The domino effect reaches the Tour de France

Football, with its formidable structure of domestic and international competitions, succumbed to the coronavirus outbreak. So too did the other team sports. They were all caught out in the midst of furious activity. The Giro d’Italia, set to start on 9 May, also fell victim to the pandemic and is on the lookout for new dates, and the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed until next year, possibly spring. This domino effect is now threatening the Tour de France, which is scheduled to begin on 27 June - earlier than usual, precisely because the Games were supposed to get underway on 24 July. Right now, the Tour’s start date looks really rather soon; it’s doubtful we’ll be back to normality in time for that.

A 'behind-closed-doors' Tour de France?

France’s sports minister, Roxana Maracineanu, has suggested a ‘behind-closed-doors’ Tour, which would involve limiting access to the rural areas where the race is being run - although people aren’t allowed out of the house anyway, so that’s already in place. It would be a Tour of silent roadsides: no fans, no flags. A spectacle solely for television viewers - which, incidentally, is the best way of watching it anyway, and is how most people do follow it. It would be strange, but then again nothing about the current state of affairs is exactly normal. It would be a measure taken in a desperate bid to save the Tour, which is not only an annual celebration for the French people, but also the cornerstone of professional cycling.

It’s hard to say what’ll happen. As I’ve said a number of times, we just don’t know when Covid-19 will subside. We do know, though, that it won’t die out all at once. When it finally clears up in Spain, Italy and France, I fear it’ll still have a way to go in the likes of the UK, the US and Australia. What’s more, the cyclists can't train. They’re banned from doing so, except in Belgium and Italy, where they get abused for going out because people don’t realise they’re professionals. The Tour could be moved back towards the dates previously occupied by the Olympics, but that’ll need the agreement of the French government, the Union Cycliste Internationale, the teams, sponsors and broadcasters. And the peloton would go into it with minimal training under its belt, not to mention no prior races.