But this year’s Tour de France starts in Nice on Saturday, two months later than expected and amid unprecedented health measures due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
France has been one of the European countries most affected by the coronavirus, with more than 30,000 deaths, mainly between March and mid-May.
Tour organizers hung on for as long as possible on their scheduled start date of June 27, but in April, weeks after France’s strict 55-day lockdown, they bowed to the inevitable and the have postponed to August.
The French lockdown, and similar measures in many other countries, have also had their impact on cyclists.
Many were forced to spend the spring and early summer training indoors instead of going out on the roads as they usually did at this time of year.
And preparation for the Tour was marred by a series of bad accidents during the traditional Criterium du Dauphine warm-up race and other events.
The coveted Slovenian Primoz Roglic for the Tour was injured in an accident while leading the penultimate day of the Critérium and had to retire.
German prospect Emmanuel Buchmann, who lost key training time after also falling in the Critérium, also played down his hopes.
“There are a lot of things possible but it all has to fit together, especially in preparation,” the 27-year-old told dpa earlier this week. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for us. “
Meanwhile, four-time British winner Chris Froome, who has struggled to regain his form since cycling resumed, has been sidelined from the race by his team Ineos Grenadiers, who say he will focus on the Spanish Vuelta instead.
Ineos Grenadiers will instead focus his efforts on defending champion Egan Bernal of Colombia with Geraint Thomas, winner in 2018, left to chase the Giro d’Italia.
Once the Tour has started, strict health rules will be applied to prevent any virus outbreak among the riders.
Any team whose two members have tested positive for the coronavirus within seven days will be excluded from the race, according to the organizers.
The rule applies not only to cyclists, but to a “bubble” of 30 people for each team, including support staff.
Spectators can expect to be rigorously bound by increasingly strict hygiene rules implemented across France, which has seen a further rise in coronavirus infections in recent weeks.
Masks have already been compulsory in all public places in Nice since last week.
With police across the country fining 700 people a day for breaking masking rules, there is no reason to expect cycling fans lining the roads for the event. copiously televised get special treatment.
Spectators are asked to stand two meters from cyclists, ask for zero autographs, bring two essentials – a mask and hand sanitizer – and not take any selfies.
If everyone sticks to the rules, the organizers will hope to make it to the traditional finish of the sprint on the Champs-Elysées on September 20 without health problems causing further disruption.
Australian Associated Press