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Speaking to journalists ahead of Saturday’s Grand Départ in Nice, Sagan said that 2020 is the year for fans to stay at home.
“I don’t see the sense now, for 2020, for people to go watch the race outside,” Sagan said. “We have two meters of distance between the people, and no selfies, then I don’t see the point that somebody can enjoy [the Tour de France] on the road.
“It is much better to watch the race on television,” Sagan added.
Indeed, this year the race is starting under a fog of uncertainty due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Much of Southern France is in a COVID-19 ‘red zone’ due to surging cases of coronavirus in the area. The Tour is trying to limit the number of fans alongside the road on the climbs, prohibiting overnight camping and the use of camper vans on the climbs. The traditional “pop-up villages” atop the race’s biggest mountains are also prohibited.
During Thursday’s pre-race parade in Nice, only 1,000 spectators were allowed to watch the event outside.
The race has developed a series of safety precautions for riders and staff, and the “race bubble” concept means that riders and their handlers have almost no contact with the outside world throughout the three-week race.
Yet the specter of COVID-19 is bound to follow the Tour from city to city, and there is still some lingering doubt that the event will finish on September 20 in Paris.
The extra precautions, plus the surge in COVID-19 cases, has thrust the virus to the forefront of the race. Around the world, casual and hardcore fans are questioning whether it’s a wise choice to hold the race at all.
Ralph Denk, manager of Bora-Hansgrohe, said holding the Tour de France represents an important step in returning to normalcy amid the worldwide crisis.
“It’s important,” Denk said. “We cannot stop everything. We cannot stop the economy, we cannot stop sport, and we cannot stop normal life. For sure, we cannot do our sport [as if] under normal conditions. It is similar to life — we should find a good way to do it. In my opinion, the ASO and the UCI have found a good way to start the Tour de France. I feel safe, and I can say this as well for the team.”
When asked if he thinks the race will make it to Paris, Sagan said the French authorities were the ones to ask. Sagan, meanwhile, said he was simply following ASO’s rules for pre-race safety ahead of Saturday’s start.
“We are blocked in one bubble at the Tour de France, and I could see already yesterday that everybody got tested,” Sagan said. “At the presentation, it was pretty sad without people, but, well, it is like it is. It’s important for the Tour de France that people could watch it on television, live. Then, I don’t see a big difference. For sure, there’s going to be more safety for everyone.”
Sagan is hoping to capture a record eighth green jersey at this year’s Tour de France, and he’s also targeting sprint and hilly stages. Bora-Hansgrohe is also targeting the GC with German rider Emanuel Buchmann, which means Sagan will have to share the team’s support riders with the squad’s GC ambitions.
That’s no problem, Sagan said, as he has his trusty lieutenant, Daniel Oss, by his side.
“Oh, well I did some Tours de France with other leaders, and I was also alone,” Sagan said. “I’m already used to it and I’m very happy for Daniel to help. I am very focused every day for the intermediate sprints and for the finish.”
This year’s race packs eight mountain stages into the route, and only a few flat stages for the pure sprinters. Plus, the lineup of fast men this year includes pure sprinters such as Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo), and Sam Bennett (Deceuninck–Quick-Step).
Sagan said the dearth of sprint stages, plus the strong sprint lineup, will make him pick and choose his stages to garget.
At the moment he has his eyes on Saturday’s hilly stage 1 around Nice. After that, Sagan said, he will take each stage as it comes.
“My wish is to try tomorrow and we will see if I can manage to pass the climbs, but why not?” Sagan said. “After that, we will see. Stage 2 is too hard, stage 3 could be OK, but all of the sprinters coming in the sprints is a little bit like a lottery. I can choose some harder stages to pass some climbs.”
Look for Sagan to be up there on the climbs — but be sure to do so on television.