COVID creeps into classics calendar: Organizers of ‘opening weekend’ brace for restrictions

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne will not have VIP tents as organizers prepare for extended COVID measures in Belgium.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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The rapid spread of the omicron variant of coronavirus has cast its tentacles into the early spring classics.

Organizers of the curtain-raising Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in late February have made the advance decision to shut down VIP areas at their races in anticipation of government restrictions.

“We’re playing it safe to say the least,” said Tomas van den Spiegel of event organizer Flanders Classics.

The new wave of the highly contagious COVID variant has seen cyclocross races go “behind closed doors” this winter, with the Antwerp World Cup closed altogether. Teams have also been forced to cancel pre-season presentation events through northern Europe.

Belgian authorities mandated recently that venues like cinemas, theaters, and music venues will be closed, while sports events will have to take place without spectators.

Organizers behind the “opening weekend” are crossing fingers that current restrictions lasting through January 28 are not extended through to the final weekend of February when the world’s top classics riders will get their engines humming in the back-to-back cobbled races.

“The corona situation is very uncertain at the moment. That is why we recently decided to cancel the VIP tents,” Geo de Cleer of the Omloop race organization told Het Nieuwsblad.

“The current corona measures run until January 28. We couldn’t wait for that date to make the decisions. The figures can still rise sharply by the Saturday of the Omloop on February 26, there is no guarantee that the public will be admitted by then. That is why we have decided not to incur any unnecessary costs and to cancel the VIP village.”

While it is unlikely that events will be closed down altogether like they were two years ago, the chance that racing will take place without crowds remains.

Celebrated classics riders like Philippe Gilbert and Peter Sagan have spoken of how crowd-less classics lack their characteristic energy. The thousands of fans hoping to line the bergs and sprint finishes this spring will no doubt agree.

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