The Tour de France is set to be postponed after the French government said no mass gatherings can take place in the country before July 15 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 107th edition of the Tour was to begin in Nice on June 27 and conclude in Paris on July 19.
Organisers had already ruled out the idea of trying to stage the race behind closed doors, and have been speaking to local authorities due to host stages about alternative dates.
Cancellation of the race must also be considered a possibility, but would be a last resort given the Tour’s importance to cycling’s economy – attracting millions along the route and broadcast around the world.
Tour organisers say it is now impossible for the three-week race to start as scheduled, with France locked down since March 17 and more than 14,000 deaths from COVID-19.
The Tour’s postponement means there’ll be another sporting event jostling for limited places on the calendar later this year.
Many sports have been put on hold in the hope that they can be held when the pandemic eases.
“If the Tour does not take place, teams could disappear, riders and staff alike would find themselves unemployed,” Marc Madiot, head of the French team Groupama-FDJ told AFP.
Cycling’s WorldTour has been on hiatus since Paris-Nice finished a day early on March 14, with all subsequent races either postponed or cancelled.
The Tour is the next race left on the schedule.
World governing body the UCI has said it is working with stakeholders to draw up a new road racing calendar for 2020, giving priority to the Grand Tours and one-day Monuments.
The Giro d’Italia, due to begin in Budapest on May 9, has already been postponed.
Team Ineos’ Egan Bernal won last year’s Tour and the British team, winners of seven of the past eight editions, were expected to take a squad including three former winners to the start line in Nice.
Geraint Thomas, winner in 2018, was targeting the race, while four-time winner Chris Froome was making it the focal point of his comeback from career-threatening injuries suffered in last year’s Criterium du Dauphine.