E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Ghent-Wevelgem could be joining the list of races either to be cancelled or postponed due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Belgium in recent weeks.
The worrying rise in virus cases has sparked discussions about a possible country-wide lockdown in Belgium which could happen in the next couple of days. Race organisers hope that the vital build-up races for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, which itself is rumoured to be postponed, can go ahead.
Jacques Coussens, PR manager of E3 Saxo Bank Classic, told Het Nieuwsblad: “Of course, all the news about a potential lockdown worries me. If the government says that there will be another hard lockdown, I fear for our course. But, to be clear, I still assume there will be racing. I’m not the government, of course, and they decide. But if I were government, I would say let that race continue.”
E3 was one of the races that were cancelled in 2020, so the organiser is very keen to hold the race in 2021 after taking extra safety measures for both riders and the few fans that will be at the race. The organiser will use new safety barriers and robots to tell people to wear masks and detect people who have a fever.
Co-organiser of Ghent-Wevelgem, Griet Langedock, also told Het Nieuwsblad: “You could say that for the third time in a year we have clenched our buttocks. In March last year, our concerns came true and Ghent-Wevelgem was cancelled. We then moved to the beginning of October, but then there was also an edge because the new Corona wave breaking through. Ghent-Wevelgem then arrived not a day too early. And now it is shocking again.”
Ghent-Wevelgem did go ahead in 2020 but in the Autumn, but even then it was touch-and-go due to the second wave of Covid-19 in Europe. Both the men’s and women’s races were able to go ahead with Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) winning the former and Jolien D’hoore (then Boels-Dolmans) taking the latter.
Tomas Van Den Spiegel, CEO of Flanders Classics was asked if he could see the races like the Tour of Flanders being cancelled, but said organisers had already shown that races can go ahead without fans, as they did in October of last year, and they are ready to do it again if needed. He added that the threat of cancellation was an incentive for fans to stay home and watch on their TVs instead of standing on the roadside.
Van Den Spiegel told Sporza: “We are still confident that this will not have any consequences for the Tour of Flanders. I think we showed in October during a very bad period that you can organise a course very safely.”
The upcoming Classics are set to see some of the biggest names in the sport battle it out for victory, including Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r Citroën Team), and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) as they build-up to their main goals for the season.