French cycling’s Paris-Roubaix was rescheduled Thursday, with organizers citing its “mythical” status and the desire to stage the inaugural women’s race as key to finding new dates as France hunkers down under a wave of Covid-19. A significant event in French sport and scheduled for April 11, the race looked doomed when President Emmanuel Macron announced coronavirus restrictions would be tightened across the country on Wednesday.
The race organizers and the International Cycling Union (UCI) accepted that a shortened version was not possible next Sunday but appeared delighted with the new dates in October. The six-hour road-race known as the ‘Hell of the North’ is contested over sections of old cobbled mining roads and is televised in 190 countries thanks in part to the mud-splattered nature of the epic slog.
UCI president David Lappartient said squeezing the race back into the calendar was “in keeping with the status of this mythical event so much appreciated by riders and fans”. Adding that because Paris-Roubaix Women will be held for the first time as part of the UCI Women’s World Tour, it had been doubly essential to find new dates. The women’s race will be on October 2 and the men’s on October 3.
Roubaix is in France’s Nord region, which borders Belgium, where another of the sport’s monuments, the Tour of Flanders, remains set for Sunday under strict Covid-19 safety protocol. First staged in 1896, the Paris-Roubaix was canceled last year for the first time since the Second World War. The latest postponement comes a day after Macron announced coronavirus restrictions would be tightened across the country.
Schools will also be closed, following a sharp rise in infections in France which have been running at more than 40,000 a day. Like the Tour de France, the Paris-Roubaix usually attracts large spectators and draws in high television figures in France. “It’s hard to imagine Paris-Roubaix being canceled for the second time in two years,” chief of the organizers Christian Prudhomme told AFP.
“We proposed a shortened version, but in the end, this wasn’t enough to meet with the security protocols,” said Prudhomme, who described the eventuality as heart-breaking for those who had struggled to organize it. Prudhomme told the race as an eminently popular classic, coveted by many great champions, adding that he was “pleased” the race had been switched rather than canceled. Until last year, the only cancellations of the race were between 1915-1918 and 1940-1942.