The Tour de France will cover an entire country for 21 days, passing through cities and thousands of people.
Normally you would expect a lot of people along the route, packed in squares, a few millimeters from the runners at the top of the climbs. Less of this will happen in 2020, a year that will go down in history for Covid-19.
This year, social distancing will be essential and the presence of spectators will be managed, especially in the start and finish areas, according to the rules published by the authorities. Fans and runners will need to keep the distance and wear a mask at all times.
No podium kisses, no selfies with the athletes, no autographs. Stage winners and category leaders will not receive flowers, prizes or shirts: they will have to collect them themselves and celebrate in solitude.
Have there been any issues so far?
Since the season resumed with the Vuelta a Burgos, cycling authorities have done a good job of ensuring safety in the world of professional cycling, with virtually no cases of Covid-19 in the race.
US AG2R pilot Larry Warbasse tested positive last week and recently competed in Il Lombardia. As a precaution, the French team decided to prevent Geoffrey Bouchard, Axel Domont and Ben Gastauer from participating in the last stage of the Tour du Limousin.
But in the majority of races, such as Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia, and the Criterium du Dauphine – the Tour’s dress rehearsal – things went smoothly.
This is also what Xavier Bigard, medical director of the UCI cycling governing body and safety protocol coordinator, says: “From today, we can keep our fingers crossed because we are very happy, but it’s a snapshot of the situation and things can change quickly. .
“We have rethought the times when contact can take place, from the riders signing to the finish, from the award ceremony to media activities.
“All team members must undergo two diagnostic tests for Covid-19, six days and three days before the start, while they must write a health check-up questionnaire twice a day during the race.
“We have developed the concept of the safety bubble: each team will have to create and maintain a protective bubble around it to avoid contact with external people, whose health cannot be guaranteed, while all the bubbles team will bond to form a bubble squad. “
Two strikes and the team is out of the Tour
Indeed, diagnostic tests will also take place on the two rest days, while the role of team doctors will be essential: they are responsible for guaranteeing medical safety within their team’s bubble and checking the condition of employees throughout the race.
The stakes are high: if two members of a team score high on the questionnaire, which means they could be at risk but they don’t even have to be positive, the whole team will be expelled.
“A huge job has been done to ensure the resumption of competition and we are happy with the way things have gone,” said Carlo Guardascione, Team Bahrain McLaren Medical Officer.
“The UCI protocol is an important instrument, but not always easy to apply: why do we have a Covid-19 sample six days before departure, when all the team members are at home? We have three days to launch it and it’s over a weekend: how about the labs closing?
“Having said that, the bubbles work well. I saw it in Burgos, in Poland or at the Criterium, while I was participating in these races. I felt safe. I know ASO, I’m sure they’ll do it right on the Tour too. . ”
While it is possible to reduce the risk of infection, it is impossible to prevent it 100%: Bigard is well aware of this. “The most problematic situations are related to the accommodation of the teams. Each team will be grouped together on one floor or wing of a hotel, but you cannot guarantee the hotel staff because they are not part of the bubble. “
The teams thought of individual solutions. “We bought machines to disinfect all the parts, bikes, cars and buses that we use,” Guardascione adds.
“We have re-budgeted some resources initially allocated to marketing and communications and signed a contract with a company that deals with sterilization of operating theaters,” said Andrea Agostini, COO of UAE Team Emirates. .
Is it realistic to imagine a race interruption? What should happen? ” I do not think so. If someone tested positive, that person would be isolated and treated, ”Agostini added.
“A Covid-19 cluster should explode within the peloton, but with the help and responsibility of all of us and the measures in place today, I would rule out that possibility. “
What about the fans?
It will be a different tour for the fans as well, and not just because it starts at the end of August.
“2020 will be my 42nd time in the past 43 years,” says Jannie Dreesen, president of Tom Dumoulin’s fanclub in Bestuur, Holland.
“I’m not at all scared,” Dreesen adds. “Those who join have made a choice and will play by the rules, although it won’t be easy. Maybe some of them are overkill, but all we want is to see Tom: if there are any rules for doing it, we’ll follow them.
“Between 30 and 50 of us go to La Planche des Belles Filles last Saturday and then we head to Paris, where we rented a pub: if Tom wins the Tour, we will celebrate together. “
Security will surely prohibit these fan wings which open in front of a climber, which seem incompatible with the concept of a bubble… “The French organizers can completely prevent people on the course, I am sure,” adds Agostini.
“We will react creatively then,” Dreesen retorts. “If we can’t follow the race on the Planche des Belles Filles, we’ll go up the day before and hammer wooden crosses along the course with our jerseys on.
Setting up a Grand Tour race is a huge effort, but doing it in 2020 has been even more difficult. What we have heard in terms of safety measures and attitude from the fans, however, gives us hope for the best. And now for the runners.