The Tour de France leaves the Côte d’Azur next Saturday with peaks, plains and rigid coronavirus protocols between the 176 riders and the last dash along the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Delayed for more than two months because of the virus, political will and organizational skills saw the Tour hang as the Tokyo Olympics and football’s euros tumbled.
A plan for coronavirus-era sport could emerge as global audiences in 190 countries can feast on France’s prettiest views on the grueling three-week endurance test.
Race chief Christian Prudhomme likes to say that the Tour de France is 3,000 km of smiles (3,470 km for 2020), but he called on the 10 million fans expected at the side of the road to hide this year.
After marathon negotiations with political leaders, the ASO, which organizes the race, announced in a meticulous 18-page protocol guide that two positive cases of COVID-19 in any team will see them removed from the event .
All riders must undergo two PCR nasal tests in the days preceding the start of the Tour.
In addition, the Tour has set up a COVID-19 test unit of around fifteen people which will be attached to the coordination center.
The Mediterranean city of Nice hosts the assembly known as “Le Grand Départ” and the first three stages begin or end there.
Defending 23-year-old Colombian champion Egan Bernal will defend his title as sole captain of Ineos, who ruthlessly knocked out four-time winner Chris Froome and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas from their roster last week.
“The main thing is that we aim for the victory of the Tour,” said Bernal.
Team owner, plastics and chemicals mogul Jim Ratcliffe, who also owns the Nice football club, renamed the cycling team “the Ineos Grenadiers” to promote the new all-terrain four-wheel drive vehicle of the society.
In another first, the Israel Start-Up Nation team will be among 22 teams at the start line on Saturday.
The Tour will also do away with having two daughters on the podium to welcome the winners each day – now it will be a woman and a man.Great Mastermind LoopIneos is led by Dave Brailsford, who has orchestrated seven wins in the last eight editions, starting with Briton Bradley Wiggins in 2012.
Brailsford is a great thinker who introduced the concepts of “marginal gains” and “clarity of mission” into cycling races.
“There are a lot of prizes on offer on the Tour de France, our goal is the yellow jersey,” Brailsford said of the overall victory his team are chasing if – if the virus allows – the 2020 edition arrives in Paris .
Brailsford provided the all-rounder Bernal with the platform for success as he stripped his starting lineup of the two most marketable stars in the cycling world.
Rising Dutch team Jumbo-Visma, which boasts two of the peloton’s most respected riders, is standing in the way of Bernal and Brailsford.
Jumbo will be led by the former ski jumper and Vuelta a Spanish champion Primoz Roglic.
The Slovenian enjoys unanswered final acceleration over 500m, but can be left in limbo when isolated.
Jumbo will also field former Giro d’Italia champion and world champion Tom Dumoulin, a road-savvy former medical student who is likely more likely to survive the 21 days all at once.
The route itself looks like the thrilling route of 2019, crossing the five French mountain ranges.
There will be five summit finishes and 29 ranked climbs, although RVs and pop-up villages that straddle those summit finishes will be curtailed by health protocols this year.
With the two-month delay, the French plains will likely be whipped by the autumn winds, especially on tracks along the coast like stage 10 between the Atlantic islands of Oléron and Ré.
The suspense, however, will accelerate throughout the day, as the penultimate day presents a possible reshuffle with an individual time trial on the favorite climb of fans of Les Planches des Belles Filles.
Without a French winner since 1985, Thibaut Pinot of the FDJ team is the best hope at home, and he grew up near the Planche des Belles Filles.
“I have the legs for that,” he said this week.
In a Tour de France unlike any other, it will be a victory in itself whether it is Bernal, Dumoulin or another who puts on the yellow jersey in Paris on September 20.