Big madness or a global psychological boost?

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Even a global pandemic cannot shake this French penchant for the grand gesture. The 2020 Tour de France starts on Saturday. In the time of the coronavirus, the practical priority will be to ensure that it ends in Paris on time. The bigger question that many are asking is whether she should leave the starting line.

The Tour departs from Nice on a 3,470-kilometer route which will see a traveling circus of several thousand people cross the country for three weeks. Thousands more will gather on the roads to observe an event which is a symbol of France. On television, the eyes of the world will be watching. What could possibly go wrong.

Well, almost everything. The list of what could stop the shivering is extensive. Some health experts argue that the unfolding Tour is not so much provocative madness against a deadly enemy as it is reckless “great madness” that endangers public health.

The UCI Covid-19 health framework includes testing protocols before and during races as well as the introduction of team “bubbles”. These protocols must be reinforced for the Tour with tests also scheduled for rest days. Already, there are concerns about bubble rule violations as well as a rather imprecise official line on what happens if positive tests start to occur.

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme outlined the event’s Covid-19 health measures, but the list of what could stop the shuddering is vast. Photograph: Getty Images

Reports suggest the team will have to withdraw if two runners or staff show symptoms or test positive for Covid-19. However, apparently the race will continue even if there is a confirmed case of the coronavirus. It’s a nice two-step that feels like a Let’s Get Started attitude and see what happens.

But what if a runner tests positive for Covid-19? Or if they are just showing symptoms of the disease? What kinds of ethical dilemmas are raised in deciding who can and cannot run in a context of who knows how many people may be exposed to the virus? More prosaically, is there a legal nightmare that awaits if someone objects to being deported?

What if most of the teams are sent off or the yellow jersey wearer is sent off on the last day? Flourish would be reduced to a farce.

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