Boels Ladies Tour cancelled, fate of other Dutch and Belgian races uncertain
The 2020 edition of the Boels Ladies Tour was cancelled on Monday after new local regulations made running the race impossible. Other races in the Netherlands and Belgium, home to half of the remaining Women’s WorldTour races, face increasing uncertainty.
The five-day Boels Ladies Tour, initially scheduled in August, had been postponed to September 1 to fit into the new Women’s WorldTour racing schedule. This also enabled organizers to await new COVID-19 regulations from the Dutch government on events allowed from September on. Organizer Courage Events decided on Monday, however, today that a race within the current COVID-19 regulatory framework is not possible this year.
“I was optimistic about the event until very recently,” Courage Events’ Thijs Rondhuis explained.
“We already had agreements with all the host cities. I had about 15 video meetings with mayors, aldermen and civil servants and also discussed with the Cyclist’s Alliance what the teams needed. Everyone was still onboard. Then the regulations for outdoor events were sent out in more detail by the national government task force.
“We learned that we are responsible for guaranteeing social distancing along the entire course. We already had a plan for the start and finish areas which are easier to do but unfortunately made our side events impossible. We sadly got stranded on those new and more detailed regulations. If we couldn’t make a detailed plan on how we would guarantee the social distancing in for example the Posbank national park, a very well-known area for holiday makers, we wouldn’t get a permit. That’s when I had to say ‘stop.'”
A second reason cited by Rondhuis is the ever-growing number of infections in countries close to the Netherlands like Belgium, making the situation riskier every day.
“I had to make a decision and wanted to give clarity to our volunteers who worked hard on organizing the local side events but also to the riders and teams,” he said. “Furthermore, by cancelling a month before the event you save costs like hotels for staff, teams and officials. Now I get a full refund of a substantial amount of money. With the infection rate and with the risks growing more and more in the past ten days, we had to call it.”
Half of the remaining Women’s WorldTour races on the calendar are situated in Belgium, where organizers find themselves facing continued uncertainty, as Gent-Wevelgem organizer Griet Langedock explains.
“We are constantly following the news from the government but also from the UCI and from Cycling Vlaanderen,” Langedock said. “We also frequently talk with the mayors of the towns our race passes through. You can either panic or stay calm in this phase. There is no in-between. Nobody knows what October will look like. Meanwhile we still have to plan a race although it will be stripped down to make it COVID-proof.”
In normal years, Gent-Wevelgem comprises seven races in one day. The iconic race through Flanders Fields is scheduled for October 11, and will be held for elite men and women only this year.
“We have already made some changes to the course and will not include France in our race this year,” Langedock said. “We also only organize the men’s and women’s elite races in 2020. So yes, planning is still in full swing. You only just don’t know if all your preparations will be in vain or not. It’s waiting for the briefing of our government every week and decide where we go from there.”
After the cancellation of the Boels Ladies Tour the number of UCI Women’s WorldTour races is down to 10 races, or 21 race days. The Giro d’Italia and the Madrid Challenge are the only stage races left on the prospective calendar.
The two Chinese races, the Tour of Chongming Island and the Tour of Guanxi have not officially been cancelled but the Chinese government put a halt on all international sports events last week with the exception of preparatory events leading towards the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.