After weeks of holding out hope the Tour de France would be able to go ahead as planned despite the coronavirus pandemic, the world’s most famous cycling race was finally added to the list of sporting events called off. It may still happen this year, but it’s clear the three-week race won’t be starting on June 27 in the Riviera city of Nice as scheduled.
French President Emmanuel Macron effectively made that decision in his speech to the nation on Monday when he announced that all public events with large crowds have been canceled until at least mid-July.
“Given that it’s now impossible that the Tour starts at its planned date, we are consulting with the (International Cycling Union) to try and find new dates,” race organisers Amaury Sport Organisation said on Tuesday.
New plans could be announced before the end of April following discussions between the organisers and the International Cycling Union. Marc Madiot, president of the French cycling league and director of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team, said Macron’s comments 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 said.
The last time the Tour was not held was in 1946, with the nation still emerging from World War II. It was also stopped during WWI.
Madiot said cycling teams would need to be allowed to train outdoors before the end of the lockdown period, however.
“The longer we’re under lockdown, the longer they will need to get back in shape,” Madiot said.
The “Grande Boucle”, as the Tour is known in France, is cycling’s central economic pillar which supports the 22 professional teams on the roster for 2020.
“Cancellation opens the door to a possible economic meltdown in the cycling sector,” says Jean-Francois Mignot of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who has written the book “A History of the Tour de France”. France has been under lockdown since March 17, and over 15,000 people have died from coronavirus in the country.
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.
“What’s essential is that the Tour is held.”
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.
Usually, up to 12 million fans line the roads as the Tour makes its way through the French countryside and towns and cities for three weeks every summer.
Teams’ survival becomes questionable
“It’s as simple as this. If the Tour does not take place, teams could disappear, riders and staff alike would find themselves unemployed,” said Madiot. His team budget is estimated at 20 million euros ($21.8 million) per year and is bankrolled by the state lottery and an insurance company.
Organisers ASO paid 2.3 million euros in total prize money on the 2019 edition, won by Ineos’ Colombian rider Egan Bernal who picked up a cheque for 500,000 euros. The Tour rakes in revenue but the giant cost of staging the event, featuring logistics that are as spectacular as any mountainside showdown on two wheels, eat into the margins of all road races.
Sponsors are paying hard cash for the daily hours-long television coverage and even the smallest teams can get involved in a breakaway and hence command screen time. There are ceremonies every day on the Tour for all kinds of prizes—sprinting, climbing, attacking, young riders—where sponsors’ names are prominent. “Most sponsors are in cycling for this reason alone, the whole thing is centred around the Tour ,” Mignot claimed. “If these sponsors invest money it is because TV viewers recognise the team jerseys, it is the only cycling race watched by such a vast audience.” Mignot estimated that ASO’s Tour revenue has climbed from five million euros in the mid-80s to 50 million.