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Fans kept away from start and finish lines at Paris-Nice

Joseph Delves
9 Mar 2020

Buffer zones introduced to prevent spread of coronavirus

Unlike the postponed Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, the eight-day Paris-Nice got underway at the weekend. However, fans are now being forced to stay away from the start and finish line of each stage.

Shortly before the start of Stage 2, the race organiser issued the following statement: 'To comply with the French Ministry of Health's ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people, the organiser of Paris-Nice has decided together with government authorities to hold the race "behind closed doors".

'Public access will be restricted at the start and finish of each stage with a buffer zone within 100 metres of the podium at the start and 300 metres at the finish. The organiser of Paris-Nice calls upon spectators to observe these new rules even though they stand in contrast to cycling's tradition of bringing riders and fans together.'

Aimed at preventing the spread of Coronavirus, the race’s organiser had already prohibited contact between riders and the public during podium presentations, as well as scrapping post-stage press conferences.

With cycling fans traditionally gathering in smaller groups at the roadside, rather than being herded together in a stadium, some races near affected areas have so far been able to continue as normal.

This is despite teams including Astana, Jumbo-Visma and Mitchelton-Scott having withdrawn from racing.

What next for the season?

However, as the season moves towards larger and more popular races it remains to be seen if this approach can be sustained. With northern Italy among the worst affected regions, it’s unsurprising races there have had to be postponed or cancelled.

Yet as the virus spreads across Europe the likelihood of more sports having to cancel or adapt will only increase. With later Classics races seeing large concentrations of fans gathering at key points along their routes, along with increased pressure on public transport, will the approach taken by Paris-Nice prove sustainable?

What does this mean for the Classics Season?

Currently, the French Ministry of Health's ban on large gatherings is scheduled to extend to at least 15th April. With Paris-Roubaix taking place on Easter Sunday 12th April, it’s hard to imagine how the race will be able to proceed as usual.

Other sporting events in affected areas have been able to continue without the crowds, such as football matches which have been played behind closed doors.

However, while cycling draws less dense crowds than stadium-based sports, the inability to control spectators along kilometres of open roads may present a greater challenge when it comes to restricting interaction between spectators - or if needed, keeping them away altogether.

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