Paris-Roubaix and the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix may not take place at all in 2020, as local authorities brace themselves for possible new coronavirus restrictions that could make the race untenable.
The French cobbled Classic was shifted from its usual spring date to October 25 in the restructuring of the 2020 season earlier this year, with the women’s race being added to the calendar for the first time, but the new slot is now under threat amid a resurgence of COVID-19 in France following the easing of lockdown.
The Hauts-de-France region, where much of the race takes place, is on high alert, with the metropolitan area of Lille, which hosts the finish in Roubaix, particularly affected.
New gradings of areas affected have been introduced to include ‘super red’ and ‘scarlet red’ zones. With a case rate of more than 250 per 10,000 inhabitants over a seven-day period, Lille is already eligible for the maximum ‘scarlet’ grading, but on Thursday was afforded a 10-day postponement. If the situation cannot be turned around quickly, strict lockdown conditions will be enforced, including the full closure of bars and restaurants and harsher limits on public gatherings.
“For me, the running of this race is under question,” said Michel Lalande, head of the Hauts-de-France, earlier this week.
He added that he was waiting to hear from race organisers ASO about the measures they were planning for a safe running of the race, and on Thursday a meeting was held between the two parties.
According to local newspaper La Voix du Nord, the meeting was informal, with ASO looking to provide assurances they could introduce a filtration system to limit crowd numbers on the most famous cobblestone sectors, as well as in the stands of the Roubaix velodrome at the finish.
The women’s route is scheduled to begin in Denain, south of Roubaix, and take in 116 kilometres and 17 sectors of cobbles before finishing on the Roubaix Velodrome.
No decision was taken, with local authorities set to study the measures and wait to see how the situation unfolds over the next 10 days, and how severe any new restrictions will be.
ASO will take confidence from the fact they held the Tour de France from start to finish without any major health problems, while they put on a limited Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and will do the same for Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.
While the mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry, has described herself as “extremely worried” by the health situation, the mayor of Roubaix, Guillaume Delbar, appeared more confident about the race.
“The work around safety protocols will be well done, and the race will still take place,” he said.
“I can’t imagine the finish of this mythical race in front of empty stands,” he added, “even if we will have to reduce public access to the velodrome.