The 2020 Tour de France has begun, which means there are plenty of pressing questions to hash out every day, and plenty of hot takes to debate. Our veteran reporters, Andrew Hood and James Startt, are fielding your biggest inquiries each day in this Active Pass roundtable column.
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OK, let’s get to your questions!
How much is the stress of the ‘unknown’ around this year’s race impacting the riders?
Andrew Hood @eurohoody: It will certainly play out during the race, be it riders anxious to secure new contracts, or having such an atypical racing calendar impact their readiness for the Tour. You might see riders taking more risks than usual, especially if they’re under pressure to sign a new deal. Or, you might see some spectacular blowups later in the race because preparation going into the Tour was so different. Yet, managing stress and uncertainty is also a big part of being a professional racer, so the best will focus on what they know and what they can control, and let the other questions pass them by.
James Startt: Good question. It is in a lot of ways. First, there is the unknown of each rider’s condition. I sense there is a lot of self-doubt at just about every level of the peloton. Guys are super strong after training without racing for so long — but are they race-strong for three weeks? And, while they are physically strong, they haven’t raced much in a pack yet, and on a stage like Saturday’s stage 1, there was no margin for error. Already those hills and descents around Nice are some of the trickiest in the world, and when the rains kick up a sheet of oil on them, well, there is nowhere to hide. And, that was a total unknown going into the stage, and something the riders had to get their head around very quickly in the middle of the first stage of the Tour de France. There were a lot of riders that were just plain scared. And then there is the unknown regarding the length of the race. Will it actually make it to Paris? For Sunday, however, there seems to be little interest from the major players to race as if the Tour might stop in 10 days. There seems to be little interest in trying to control the yellow jersey early.
Do you think all of the stages will be completed this year?
Andy: Who knows? The two big question marks are about COVID-19 and the weather. I think the latter will be more of a factor in determining whether or not all the stages are completed. If some freaky fall storms hit the Alps in the final weeks, snow could clog some of the higher roads. For COVID-19, the Tour can push fans and media out of the way if things heat up. If the situation gets so bad with COVID-19 that organizers have to start canceling stages, then the whole Tour might be in danger.
Startt: That is the big question. If it is up to the Tour organizer ASO, then yes, most definitely. If it is up to the French government, well, things might get more tricky. What is it going to be like to have the Tour show up on the small island of Ile de Ré? From a health and sanitary measure, that would surely be ill-advised. And currently, masks are required of all pedestrians and cyclists on the Champs-Élysées. What kind of a message will it send when the Tour races up and down mask-less? Anyway, there are several scenarios. The Tour could be halted or go all the way to Paris. Or it could start in Nice and finish in Paris, but have some stages canceled in between.
How might COVID-19 impact the final podium?
Andy: It will certainly be a determining factor. Teams might be ejected from the race. Riders might get sick. Arriving to Paris on the top steps this year will take a special set of skills, including avoiding contagion — a weird sign of the times.
Startt: Who knows? Will certain favorites be forced to withdraw because of COVID-19 cases on their own team? Will this year’s Tour finish like the Dauphiné, with all of the big favorites crashing out or dropping out due to injury? Primož Roglič was slow to recover from his crash at the Dauphiné and missed several days of training in his team’s altitude camp. Egan Bernal stated at the pre-race press conference that his back was still hurting. The winner of this year’s race will firstly be about who survives the three weeks.
With all the changes in personnel for Team Ineos Grenadiers, I would love to hear how the team dynamics and culture are different during the Tour.
Andy: It will be hard to replace Nico Portal. The Frenchman was both a details man, and a soothing, non-panicking presence in the team car. New lead director Gabriel Rasch will face some pressure, but the team will be sharing the DS duties, with Servais Knaven and others taking on some of the tasks. Some of the team’s key players remain in place, including the ever-present Brailsford, but Ineos faces a big challenge against the very well-oiled machine at Jumbo-Visma.
James: As Bernal said in the pre-race press conference, there may be a lot more Spanish-speaking riders on the team, but it is still a British team. The team has a history and a DNA, much like Deceuninck–Quick-Step in the classics. A certain number of parts can be changed in and out, and Dave Brailsford reigns over everything. The biggest change perhaps is in sports direction after the sudden death of Nico Portal. He was highly-revered on the team, and the loss can still be felt. And for the moment there is not a full-time replacement. That could be a real void over the next three weeks. A great director keeps the team focused throughout the three weeks, be it when they are in the race lead or going through moments of uncertainty.
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