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However, while the threat of coronavirus hangs heavy over the three-week race, Jumbo-Visma isn’t going to change its approach to beating the British outfit for fears of an early race shutdown.
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“There are concerns that the course will be cut short,” Jumbo-Visma’s road captain Tony Martin told DPA Thursday. “That hangs like the sword of Damocles above us, every day could be the last.”
The Dutch team poses a serious threat to Team Ineos Grenadiers’ long rein on the Tour de France throne at this year’s Grande Boucle. However, having spent what team director Merijn Zeeman described in Thursday’s pre-race press conference as “months of preparation” pouring over tactics and analyzing opponents, Jumbo-Visma is going to stick to the master plan rather than approach every day as a one-day classic for fear of the race not reaching Paris on September 20.
“We don’t have a strategic plan to be early in the lead in case the race stops after one and a half weeks,” team co-leader Tom Dumoulin said in a videoconference. “The winner after one a and a half weeks isn’t a real winner of the Tour de France.”
Jumbo-Visma is planning to keep both Dumoulin and fellow leader Primož Roglič in GC contention through to the final week of the Tour before fully backing one of the two in a final push for the line in Paris. As far as they’re concerned, the race ends after 21 stages, and not before.
“Everything that will happen with coronavirus, we don’t have control of,” Roglič said. “So for me and the guys, the Tour de France is three weeks, the finish is in Paris, so I’m looking at the whole picture like that, and hopefully when we start in Nice we will finish in Paris.”
Tour organizers ASO and governing body UCI have implemented a range of measures designed to ensure rider and public health at this year’s Tour, which typically draws thousands of fans every day. Rider bubbles, restrictions over team travel and accommodation, and strict COVID-testing protocol have all been designed, tweaked, and tested through August’s preparation races in advance of Le Tour, which rolls out of Nice on Saturday.
Dumoulin is confident in what he’s seen so far, but acknowledges that not every leak can be plugged.
“At the Dauphiné and Tour de l’Ain, it’s the same organization as the Tour de France [i.e., ASO], and at the start, finish and hotels it was really well arranged and I never felt unsafe,” Dumoulin said. “There was always distancing and precautions, and fans were kept at a distance.
“But at the climbs, there were a lot of fans without masks still, and they get enthusiastic when we pass and of course, that’s normal, but now with the coronavirus, that’s how it could get spread into the peloton, and that’s not what we want, so it’s a difficult situation and it cannot be 100 percent safe always.”