ROME, May 14 (Xinhua) -- For the first time since World War II, the famed Giro d'Italia bike race will depart from its traditional spot near the start of the European cycling season, pushed into the autumn by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 103rd edition of the race was originally scheduled to start in Hungary last Sunday, with three stages taking place there -- the 14th time the race would have started outside Italy's borders -- before arriving in Italy Tuesday for the race's final 18 stages. The finish, which had been scheduled for May 31, was to take place in Milan.
The coronavirus has changed all that. The race is now scheduled to take place on Oct. 3-25. The race will start in Italy, according to Paolo Bellino, the managing director of RCS Sport, the entity that organizes the Giro d'Italia, though the final route has not yet been decided.
Of course, cycling is not the only sport forced to change its plans due to the coronavirus, which first emerged in Italy in January. The country's professional soccer league is still debating whether it will continue the season suspended in March, and the Formula 1 car racing program is in limbo. Tentative plans are for Italy's main tennis tournaments to take place late in the summer. Meanwhile, rugby, volleyball, basketball, and water polo seasons have all been canceled outright, preferring to restart in 2021.
But none of those sports faced the logistical challenges of the Giro d'Italia, which each year takes a different route winding through the cities and villages and the Italian countryside, covering nearly 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) most years, and taking three weeks to complete.
"Organizing a route for the race every year is a challenge because we have to make sure there is no conflict on the roads we will use and in the communities we will pass through," Bellino told Xinhua. "This year we will have done it twice since most of the first route we chose cannot be used. We'll reveal the route for this year's race in June."
Bellino said it was a matter of pride for organizers not to cancel the race outright, something that has not happened since 1945, the year that marked the end of World War II.
"There will be no bike racing until August," Bellino said. "That means we have to condense a seven-month season into less than three months. All of the great races have great traditions. So far, no major professional European bicycle race has been canceled. We never entertained the idea of canceling or shortening the race."
Without a doubt, the racing calendar will be crowded. Traditionally, the Giro d'Italia is the first of the three great European three-week races, followed by the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana (all three names translated from Italian, French, and Spanish to the "Tour of" followed by the host country Italy, France, or Spain).
But this year, the shuffled calendar will result in the Tour de France happening first, followed by the Giro d'Italia, and then the Vuelta a Espana. In fact, the final two races will overlap: a slightly shortened version of the Spanish race will run on Oct. 20-Nov. 8, starting five days before the Giro d'Italia concludes. The Italian race will also overlap with the 118th edition of the one-day Paris-Roubaix race, one of Europe's oldest races, which was moved from April 12 to Oct. 25, the final day of the Giro d'Italia.
"Everyone's hope is that this year will be an anomaly that forced everyone to adjust but didn't force any major race to cancel," Bellino said. "We all want to go back to normal in 2021."