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Tour de France

Prudhomme: ‘If you like the Tour and the champions, wear masks’

COVID spikes in France pile pressure on Tour as this week's Dauphiné makes face makes mandatory.

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An alarming rise in COVID-19 cases has hit France just as two of its biggest races, the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de France, are close to rolling out.

Concerns of a “second wave” of coronavirus in the nation has renewed pressure on ASO, organizers of both the  Tour and this week’s five-stage Dauphiné, who is stepping up its calls for caution from fans.

“I call on people to wear masks,” ASO boss Christian Prudhomme told Nice-Matin Tuesday. “If you like the Tour and the champions, when you are on the side of the Tour route, you wear masks. And not just in places where it will be compulsory, where we will ensure that it will be respected.”

Prudhomme had admitted that while his organization will do all it can in the race environment, what goes on beyond it is out of his hands – and so roadside fans need to be more vigilant than ever.

“Now, there will inevitably be people on the side of the Tour de France road. Apart from the start, the arrivals and the passes where there will be regulations, the rest is life in a certain way,” he said.

Key Tour warm-up race the Dauphiné is set to play out in the Massif Central and the northern Alps this week, just as coronavirus cases in France have hit a recent high.

BBC News reported Wednesday that COVID cases in the country had nearly doubled in the past 24 hours, with French Prime Minister Jean Castex warning that the country is going the “the wrong way” in its fight against the virus.

ASO has already sketched out its health and safety plans for this year’s Tour, which will limit fan and media access to riders, shut down finishing areas to all but a few essential staffers, and impose travel and accommodation regulations on teams.

The measures planned for the Tour, set to start August 29, are being put to the test at the Dauphiné this week. AFP reported Tuesday that the Dauphiné has now made face masks mandatory for all spectators.

“The health situation remains fragile in the Loire, where the spread of the virus is still active,” said Evence Richard, an official from the Loire region which plays host to several stages of this week’s race.

While this year’s Dauphiné and Tour will look a little different for both riders and fans, Prudhomme was keen to emphasize that the race will return to normality when the time is right.

“This won’t be the year to ask for autographs or for selfies. The riders will say hello from afar,” Prudhomme said. “Once the pandemic is gone, the Tour will return to what it is with obviously its magnificent popular aspect.”