The Santos Tour Down Under will go ahead in January regardless of the pandemic – but it’ll be missing some of the international competitors.
The Santos Tour Down Under will go ahead in January regardless of the pandemic – but it’ll be missing some of the international competitors.

Tour Down Under will go ahead – with or without crowd

South Australia's biggest sporting and tourism event the Santos Tour Down Under will go ahead in January, Events SA has declared.

But its WorldTour status will hinge on international travel re-opening or rapid-fire COVID testing like that at this month's Tour de France being available and approved by the State Government.

In a show of defiance that the COVID-19 pandemic will not cancel Australia's biggest festival of cycling, Events SA is adamant the race will go ahead in some shape or form next year even if it is scaled back to a national-level bike race if international teams are locked out or forced to quarantine for 14 days on arrival in Adelaide.

Australia's European-based WorldTour team, Mitchelton-Scott, says overseas teams would not fly Down Under to sit in a hotel room for two weeks before racing but has urged the UCI and State Government to discuss other safe options to allow the race to go ahead.

 

Richie Porte is the reigning Tour Down Under champion. Picture: Sarah Reed.
Richie Porte is the reigning Tour Down Under champion. Picture: Sarah Reed.

"Our event team is working incredibly hard behind the scenes to design another exciting Santos Tour Down Under," Events SA executive director Hitaf Rasheed told The Advertiser.

"(It) is one of the most popular events on the South Australian events calendar, it brings international and interstate visitors to our city and our regions, it profiles South Australia, and connects local communities through race routes, festivals and participating events.

"We are committed to delivering the Santos Tour Down Under for South Australia and creating an event that is safe for all.

"At the same time and like many organisations and events, we are working on a number of different scenarios to ensure it is a COVID-safe event for our spectators, teams and all key stakeholders.

"Many of these scenarios are dependent upon external parties and actions, such as border closures, quarantine restrictions, flights and access into South Australia.

"We are also keen to make sure that whatever we deliver aligns with community sentiment. Ultimately our response to COVID-19 is a work in progress and we continue to work very closely and take advice from SA Health and SAPOL."

The TDU is the jewel in the state's sporting and tourism crown, having injected upwards of $63m into the state's economy each of the past three years. This year's event lured over 44,000 visitors from interstate and overseas who filled hotels, bars and restaurants for two weeks.

The official dates of next year's race are January 14-24, and new men's race director Stuart O'Grady and women's boss Kimberley Conte have finalised the race routes which have not been made public.

 

The race route for the women’s Tour Down Under has been finalised as well. Picture: Daniel Kalisz (Getty).
The race route for the women’s Tour Down Under has been finalised as well. Picture: Daniel Kalisz (Getty).

The routes are usually released in July to coincide with the Tour de France but the world's biggest bike race has been rescheduled to start on August 29 this year.

In a major boost, the TDU's naming right's sponsor Santos has reaffirmed its commitment and Events SA is talking with Cycling Australia about the potential of hosting the best domestic teams if the international peloton is locked out.

The government has not put a hard deadline in place for when it will make a final decision on next year's race and it's understood there is no insurance in place to protect against loss of economic stimulus - like Wimbledon did to protect itself against loss of revenue from this year's Grand Slam being cancelled.

Events SA is talking with teams and the UCI and is also believed to be monitoring how other sports are managing a return to competition and spectators amid the pandemic.

"We are in regular contact with the UCI and teams, and the cycling community is working together on solutions for the sport. On that front, it's great to see professional cycling up and running again in Europe, with the Tour de France set to begin at the end of this month," Ms Rasheed said.

 

Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White.
Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White.

Mitchelton-Scott team director Matt White said he and his riders were being tested three times a week while moving throughout Europe to get the wheels turning in international cycling again.

"A full-on quarantine where people couldn't leave the hotel is not even realistic (for European teams in Adelaide). Teams are not going to do that for two weeks before any bike race," White said.

"The availability of quick testing here now, with the protocols here in Europe we are tested six days out (from a race), three days out and on-site testing.

"We send our tests to London and they are done within 24 hours, every team is using different laboratories, but our guys in Andorra are being tested in the morning and they have the result that night.

"We're two-and-a-half weeks away from the Tour de France and the Dauphine (starting this week) and I know if people show symptoms, there is a mobile unit that will come around and have that test done in an hour-and-a-half.

"There are options (for TDU) to use chartered flights, a degree of quarantine where people were restricted to training and back to the hotel, that would be great to put those options on the table and in the end it will be a government decision.

"The world is a long way from getting back to normal and economies and people have to work in a way that's safe but we can't stop our normal life, we have to adjust it, but we can't stop sports or businesses or entertainment forever, it will kill industries."

 

The Tour Down Under has been held every year since its inception in 1999. Picture: Sarah Reed.
The Tour Down Under has been held every year since its inception in 1999. Picture: Sarah Reed.

If international teams are locked out and the TDU becomes part of Cycling Australia's national road series, it would feature the nation's top domestic teams.

"We'd be supportive of anything that helps promote cycling and the recovery from Covid," CA chief executive Steve Drake said.

"I don't think anybody is at a point where they can comment on specifically what might happen because as Hitaf has said they are looking at everything, but they do seem committed to having a bike race in South Australia so from CA's perspective that's great.

"I think there's still a whole bunch of stuff that's being evaluated (from an NRS perspective) and one of the things we've all learnt in the last six months is that things can change quickly, but our current thinking for 2021 would be we are back to a more normal season, but that doesn't mean we couldn't incorporate something that isn't more tailored around TDU if that was the best thing for the sport."

reece.homfray@news.com.au

Originally published as Tour Down Under will go ahead - with or without the full crowd



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