April 28, 2020 / 4:09 PM / 4 months ago

Tour de France may have to limit spectators at start - ministry

PARIS (Reuters) - The Tour de France may have to limit spectators during the first days of the race in order to comply with a ban on major events gathering more than 5,000 people before September, the French sports ministry said.

FILE PHOTO: Cycling - Tour de France - The 128-km Stage 21 from Rambouillet to Paris Champs-Elysees - July 28, 2019 - Team INEOS rider Egan Bernal of Colombia, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, in action in front of the Arc de Triomphe. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday that major sporting and cultural events bringing together more than 5,000 participants could not be held before September as he announced plans for a gradual end of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown from May 11.

Philippe did not specifically mention the Tour de France, which has been postponed to Aug. 29-Sept. 20 from its original June 27 start date.

“It is too early to say (how this will impact the Tour) but for now this does not imply a postponement nor a cancellation, but it does not rule out arrangements notably in terms of number of spectators,” a sports ministry spokeswoman said.

The Tour is the biggest event on road cycling’s calendar and the sport’s most lucrative race by far. It was originally scheduled to take place from June 27-July 19.

That was knocked off course by the COVID-19 pandemic, which as of Monday had killed 23,293 people in France.

The coronavirus outbreak prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to impose a strict lockdown that includes a ban on any mass gatherings.

Earlier this month, the International Cycling Union (UCI) pushed the Tour back by two months.

With the ban on mass spectator events now due to run until September, Tour organisers could have to hold the first three days of the race with restrictions in place on the number of fans attending.

That would be unfamiliar for an event which prides itself on its unrestricted access for spectators, and where thousands of flag-waving fans, some of them in fancy dress, routinely line the route of Tour stages.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq and Christian Lowe; Editing by Toby Davis

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