Tour de France 2020

‘Everything is different in this Tour de France,’ says Nicolas Roche

Irish star accepts a race with little contact to fans, media is what’s required to push Tour to Paris.

ORCIÈRES-MERLETTE, France (VN) — The bike race from start to finish hasn’t changed much in this strange edition of the Tour de France.

But just about everything else—before the start and after the finish—has.

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Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) is starting his 10th Tour, and he’s never seen anything like it.

“Everything is different at this year’s Tour,” Roche told VeloNews. “The bike race is the start and the finish line, but everything else is different than any other year.”

Like many in the peloton, the Irish veteran said he enters the Tour de France this year with a mix of relief as well as uncertainty.

Teams are facing the possibility of being ejected if two riders or staffers inside their 30-person “bubble” test positive for COVID-19, but like most bike racers, they’re happy to have the chance to compete in the Tour.

“Everything is more complicated,” Roche said. “I can’t say it affects the racing, because we take our mask off and race. But you notice it’s a different Tour in how you interact with the media or the fans.”

When VeloNews spoke with Roche before the start of Tuesday’s fourth stage, Roche stood behind barriers to keep a safe distance from the media. This reporter used a selfie-stick to attach the microphone.

“One of the side-effects of COVID is the relationship with the media, which is not as close as before,” Roche said. “There is no interaction at all with the fans, and the Tour de France is all that.

“In a way, you miss signing autographs, giving a handshake to a kid, that’s all part of cycling heritage, and that’s all taken away for very clear safety reasons. That’s the most difficult bit.”

Roche said due to restrictions from team orders, there are no family visits this year, including his father, 1987 Tour winner Stephen Roche.

Roche said the differences are noticed at the hotel as well. Teams are segregated from others and stay packed within their bubbles.

“The big change is all the security. We go into the hotel, and you have to be over-protective,” he said. “We came in yesterday, and we see, ‘Oh, there are three teams,’ and ‘Where’s the hand sanitizer?’ Now, it’s a whole different mindset. Before I would go into a hotel I was worried about how my bedroom size would be.”

The big risk during this Tour for the team is the risk of expulsion. Roche said Sunweb, like most teams, is following a strict internal protocol, with masks, hand sanitizers, social distancing, and full respect for the rules.

Roche also knows there is no full guarantee that some cases could pop up between here and Paris.

“We try to make it as safe as possible,” Roche said. “We also know with this virus, you can get by touching an elevator button or opening a door, it’s as easy as that.”

“In fairness, you cannot blame them,” Roche said of the strict rules. “We all want to get to Paris. If there is one guy [positive], that probably means there’s going to be three or four. The way we live in the bubble, I cannot see it just being one. It would be four on a go.

“It’s important that this race goes on. And I hope not that a team might be sacrificed.”

Roche is doing his part inside the barriers, riding to 22nd in Tuesday’s first mountaintop stage, settling into 24th overall.