This year’s Tour de France is set to shift the goalposts in so many ways.
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Tour organizer ASO has battled against adversity to ensure that this year’s race would go ahead in one way or another, and with the peloton set to roll out in just three days, Christian Prudhomme has vowed that the race will be as friendly and inclusive as ever – only with COVID-era twists.
Having long balked against the idea of a race devoid of roadside fans, Prudhomme told AFP this week that, “Yes, the public will have access to the Tour de France.”
However, rather than crowds free to roam race villages and snap selfies with riders or gawk at super-spec bikes, there will be careful controls over where fans can go, and how many of them can do it.
“There will be screening areas at the start and finish areas to allow the current government maximum of 5,000 fans,” Prudhomme said.
“Screening will also be in place in the 20-or-so climbs and passes,” Prudhomme added, explaining that “in certain places, only people on foot, by bicycle, or who come on public transport set up by the hosting towns or villages can go to the passes.”
Screening areas organized by ASO will be far from a free-for-all, with the public mandated to wear face masks and urged to make ample use of the two tonnes of hand gel that will be distributed from 60 hygiene points.
New dates, different audience
The change in the Tour de France’s date from its typical peak-July slot to late August through September was the first major measure that Prudhomme and ASO made to ensure the race could go ahead. While the delay had the obvious advantage of distancing the Tour from the spring peak of the European health crisis, it also places the rase at the close of the European holiday season.
“Moving from July to September naturally means fewer people,” Prudhomme said. “People are at work, children have gone back to school, the tourists are no longer there.
“On the Tour routes, there are 20 percent foreigners in July, 50 percent in some passes. We already know that we will no longer have the British, the Australians, [or] the Americans.”
The return of mandatory quarantine procedures for travel between certain European nations due to isolated spikes in COVID cases through the continent has further minimized likely public attendance. And it’s not just public access that will be altogether different at this year’s Tour, but the way it is broadcasted and reported from has been radically reshaped, with many media outlets having staffers report from home.
Prudhomme estimates that the reduction in the circus around the Tour – a result of fewer media and minimized team presence, – along with a pre-meditated trimming of the publicity caravan, will reduce on-race traffic by as much as 40 percent.
The environmental impact of pro cycling has been a talking point in recent years. From the swathe of on-race team busses and cars to the jettisoning of bidons into hedges, the sport has been called out for its unwieldy ecological footprint. Recent years have seen race organizers make moves to lessen the environmental impacts of their events, with riders fined for throwing food wrappers in unauthorized areas and teams encouraged to use low-emission vehicles.
This year’s Tour will see further progress.
“There is a lot less plastic that will be handed out, something we’ve been working on for several years,” Prudhomme said, adding that all organizers’ cars this year are hybrids for the first time.
Riders thirsty to race
While the world around the Tour may look a little different this summer, Prudhomme is confident that the drama and scintillating racing will remain.
“From what I could see when competition resumed, the riders are like they’re starved to death,” he said. “They have a desire to compete, a thirst to compare themselves to others, the need to shine in a very short but extraordinarily loaded season.”
AFP contributed to this report