The Tour de France is not only a French monument, but also the economic heartbeat of professional cycling itself, and analysts fear heavy consequences if the COVID-19 pandemic forces its cancelation.
An announcement is expected this week on either a postponement or cancelation of the 21-day extravaganza that is scheduled to start in Nice, France, on June 27.
The Grande Boucle, as the Tour is known in France, is the central economic pillar that supports the 22 professional teams on the UCI World Tour roster.
“Cancelation opens the door to a possible economic meltdown in the cycling sector,” said Jean-Francois Mignot of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who wrote the book A History of the Tour de France.
Maintaining the original dates looks almost impossible following French President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement on Monday that public events with large crowds are to remain banned until at least the middle of July.
France has been under lockdown since March 17 and nearly 15,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the nation.
Usually, up to 12 million fans line the roads as the Tour makes its way through the French countryside, towns and cities for three weeks every summer.
“It’s as simple as this. If the Tour does not take place, teams could disappear, riders and staff alike would find themselves unemployed,” said Marc Madiot, the directeur sportif of top French team Groupama-FDJ.
His team budget is estimated at 20 million euros (US$21.8 million) per year, and is bankrolled by the state lottery and an insurance company.
Tour de France organizer Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) paid 2.3 million euros in total prize money for last year’s race, won by Team Ineos’ Colombian rider Egan Bernal, who picked up a check for 500,000 euros.
The Tour rakes in revenue, but the giant cost of staging the event, featuring logistics that are as spectacular as any mountainside showdown on two wheels, eat into the margins of all road races.
Sponsors are paying hard cash for the daily hours-long TV coverage, and even the smallest teams can get involved in a breakaway and hence command screen time.
There are ceremonies every day for all of the prizes — sprinting, climbing, attacking, young rider — where sponsors’ names are prominent.
“Most sponsors are in cycling for this reason alone, the whole thing is centered around the Tour de France,” Mignot said. “If these sponsors invest money it is because television viewers recognize the team jerseys, it is the only cycling race watched by such a vast audience.”
“There are very few other sports with so much riding on one event,” said Bruno Bianzina, general manager of agency Sport Market.
Mignot estimated that ASO’s Tour revenue has climbed from 5 million euros in the middle of the 1980s to 50 million euros today.
Sporsora put the turnover for last year’s Tour de France at 130 million euros.
Between 40 and 50 percent comes from sponsors and TV rights make up about half, while host regions of the race also contribute about 5 percent.
That would make up more than half the turnover ASO declared in 2018, which according to Infogreffe.fr was 233.5 million euros.
“The Tour de France props up the whole of cycling, but the Tour needs the rest of the cycling calendar, too,” said Madiot, a two-time winner of the Paris-Roubaix classic.
Even the smallest sponsor pays 250,000 euros to ASO, while it is estimated that the sponsor of the race leader’s maillot jaune, LCL bank, pays 10 million euros.
“But it goes much deeper than that because the Tour de France is also a huge advert for France and French tourism,” Bianzina said.
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