In inevitable news, the 2020 Tour de France, as scheduled, has officially been postponed by race organizers. Amaury Sport Organisation, the organization that puts on the Tour every year, announced Wednesday that the race will be held beginning Aug. 29 instead, and will finish in Paris on Sept. 20.
The Tour de France has been an annual fixture in the sporting landscape since its first edition in 1903, 116 years ago. It has only been canceled for world wars, skipping 1915-1918 and 1940-1946.
New Tuesday that the race might be canceled hit particularly hard. The 2019 Tour was one of the most thrilling in years. Egan Bernal won the yellow jersey at just 22 years old, taking over the general classification on Stage 19 when a freak snowstorm forced a neutralization. He held the jersey through Paris, and positioned himself as perhaps the next great grand tour racer of his generation.
But before Bernal’s moment on the Col d’Iseran, the Tour de France belonged to Julian Alaphilippe, a swashbuckling French rider who injected spontaneity and spirit into a race that had felt staid at times because of Team Sky’s (now Team Ineos’) stranglehold on the Maillot Jaune. Alaphilippe — who had established himself as one of cycling’s great stage racers, but was not considered a contender for the yellow jersey — held the Maillot Jaune for 14 stages, and inspired faint hope that a French rider might win the Tour for the first time since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
If it takes place, the 2020 Tour de France will be another chance to revisit the 2019’s character dynamics. It will also tackle a fascinating route. The Tour is scheduled to start in Nice, along the French Riviera, then zig-zag up the country towards Paris. Though it is light on iconic climbs, like Alpe d’Huez or Mont Ventoux, four-time Tour winner Chris Froome called the route the hardest he’d seen “in the last few years” due to new, inspired climbs through locales like the Massif Central, and a dearth of flat stages. A time trial on the penultimate stage finishing atop the grueling La Planche des Belles Filles in northeast France is engineered with pyrotechnics in mind.
The coronavirus pandemic might still make the Tour untenable, however. The Tour de France likes to bill itself as the world’s biggest annual sporting event, thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people who line its more than 2,000 kilometers of course every year. Keeping crowds away from the race could be a logistical nightmare. Never mind getting 160-some cyclists from all over the world to form a peloton that maintains best social distancing practices.
Earlier this year, the cycling world got a taste of just how bad it might be to host a grand tour during a global pandemic. The 2020 UAE Tour in late February was cancelled after the fifth stage when two Italian staffers tested positive for Covid-19. Every team was immediately quarantined, and many had to stay in their hotels for even longer than they had been racing.
The fact that ASO is committing to a date to run the 2020 Tour may be sign of how desperately it needs the revenue. A canceled Tour de France is a particularly difficult blow to a sport like cycling, which relies heavily on sponsorship and the event’s outsized influence. Though stopping the Tour might be the correct decision, the impact would be harsh on such a fragile sport.