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Tour de France

Jumbo-Visma boss raises alarm over COVID threat from record crowds at Tour de France

Richard Plugge asks fans to respect riders as Tour returns to France.

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CALAIS, France (VN) — Jumbo-Visma manager Richard Plugge is raising the alarm over COVID-19 and the return of raucous fans who are pressing down on the Tour de France peloton.

Three days of racing in Denmark saw massive crowds return to the roadways and fans in around the team buses in the largest Tour crowds since before the coronavirus pandemic.

“Nobody is wearing a mask anymore. And people just do not understand how important it is to keep distance,” Plugge told VeloNews. “That is mainly the biggest problem compared to a year ago.”

Tour officials are requiring riders, staffers, journalists, and other Tour workers to wear face masks at starts and finishes.

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But in what is now the third Tour since the start of the world pandemic, the public is no longer required to wear face masks.

Social distancing measures have also been done away with, meaning that fans are crowding in around buses, sign-on areas, the finish lines, and everywhere along the route with the same fervor as the pre-COVID years.

“We are doing the same as we did to protect our riders and staff. The only problem is that you see around here that nobody is having protocols or measures,” Plugge said Sunday as fans squeezed in around the team bus.

“The rest of the world thinks it’s over, but it’s not over,” he said. “It’s spiking at the moment in Europe, and maybe it’s even worse than last year during the Tour. That’s the big problem.”

Jumbo-Visma already lost the services of its top sport director Merijn Zeeman after he tested positive for COVID before traveling to the Tour.

A few other teams have been touched with COVID infections across the peloton, with late-hour roster changes and staffers being sent home already in the opening days in Denmark.

Jumbo-Visma drew particularly big crowds in the opening days with the presence of GC favorite Jonas Vingegaard, but Plugge was trying to keep his star rider away from adoring fans.

“I do not make a lot of friends because I am pushing a lot of Danish away from Jonas and the rest of the riders,” he said. “You want to maintain the distance. We also ask the fans to please keep your distance.”

Racing on two fronts: ‘Things are on track’

Jumbo-Visma team’s Belgian rider Wout Van Aert in the yellow jersey as planned. (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)

Plugge said the team’s ambitious double strategy of racing for the yellow jersey and green jersey is unfolding as planned.

Wout van Aert ended up in the yellow jersey as the team hoped and planned, but not quite how they expected it.

The team hoped Van Aert would win the Friday time trial, but he was beaten by Yves Lampaert. Van Aert snatched yellow Saturday, and raced to second for the third straight day to carry the maillot jaune back to France.

“It’s a great start indeed, because the yellow jersey is a big prize,” Plugge told VeloNews. “Having the yellow jersey is what we wanted, but rather by Friday by winning the stage. Because of the weather and a really strong Lampaert, he was second. That he could take it Saturday was really cool.”

Plugge said the team has a built-in strategy of using Van Aert’s yellow jersey to race aggressively across the remainder of the first week in order to chaperone Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard into the Alps.

“We knew that up front so we made a strategy for that, and we have our tactics ready to keep the guys in the front of the classification,” he said. “We knew that Wout would have a big chance to have yellow, and we have a plan for that. Things are on track.”