(Reuters) - Professional cycling would be left in dire straits if there were no return to competitive racing this year with a potentially catastrophic impact on teams, former Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis warned on Thursday.
Competitive racing has been suspended until August, impacting on the three Grand Tour events with the Tour de France postponed to Aug. 29-Sept 20 and new dates still needing to be set for the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana.
Riis said he was confident the races would still go ahead but also conceded that the COVID-19 pandemic could yet lead to further postponements and hand the sport a major blow.
“It’s important for all that racing continues as quickly as possible but it is particularly important that the Tour de France goes ahead,” said the Dane, now manager and co-owner of NTT Pro Cycling Team, one of 19 on the World Tour.
“It is the biggest race and the race that gives the sport its biggest exposure. I’m a believer that it is possible, if it held under the right circumstances. There is a lot of hope that it will go ahead but in the end we have to trust the decision makers,” he told a virtual news conference on Thursday.
The Tour is the biggest event on road cycling’s calendar and the sport’s most lucrative race by far.
Pushing back its dates from July impacts on the Vuelta in Spain, which will now start later in the year, and a slot must be found for the Giro d’Italia, originally scheduled for May.
“I think there is space on this year’s calendar for all three tours but it will be pretty hectic.”
It would be a major blow to professional cycling if they did not go ahead, Riis added.
“There is a lot of fear and uncertainty for teams who might be forced to merge or even to fold. But we have to accept that people losing their jobs is happening in all aspects of society at the moment.”
Editing by Toby Davis