This isn’t the year to chase the Tour de France in a camper van.
Tour de France officials confirmed to VeloNews that the major climbs in this year’s route will be off-limits to cars and campers as part of a slate of health and safety precautions introduced for 2020.
“There are 27 climbs that will be very limited with no cars or campers allowed,” Tour race director Thierry Gouvenou told VeloNews. “People can only go up by foot or on bike. We don’t want to forbid the public, but limit it.”
That strict limitation on access to the emblematic climbs of the Alps and Pyrénées will alter the spectacle of the Tour de France in dramatic ways. One of the signature pieces of any Tour is the wild and festive scene on the famous climbs of the Alps and Pyrénées, where fans camp out along the route overnight to secure the best spots.
All that changes in 2020 as the Tour de France tries to find the right balance between assuring the integrity of the race, and protecting public health in the middle of a world pandemic.
Gouvenou did not identify which climbs will be closed to public vehicle traffic, but with such a high number, it obviously means that every major climb and summit along the 2020 route will be only accessible to the public by foot or bicycle.
“The biggest challenge is how to get the sufficient space between the riders and the public, especially on the climbs,” Gouvenou told VeloNews European correspondent James Startt. “That’s what been turning in our heads the most.”
The restrictions are part of a series of dramatic steps the race organization is introduction this month to try to make the race as safe as possible, and increase the likelihood the race will make it all the way to Paris for the final stage on September 20.
ASO, the owners of the Tour, have created a multi-faceted playbook on how to manage the race during pandemic conditions. On one side is the Tour entourage, which has already been split into “bubbles” along team lines designed to limit the contact — as well as limit the risk of infection — among the teams and most important race officials. As first reported by VeloNews, teams are racing under the risk of being ejected from the Tour if two riders or staffers from inside their 30-person entourage test positive for COVID-19 within a week.
The other half of the equation is the public. Working closely with French health authorities, Tour officials have instituted a series of measures that it hopes will keep the public safe as well as protect the peloton.
More fencing and social distances measures were visible through the opening three stages of the Tour. The team presentation was held without the public. The opening climbs in the hills above Nice saw a spattering of fans.
With the first touch of the Alps coming as soon as Tuesday’s fourth stage, the health measures will be noticed in even more dramatic ways as the summit finale will be contested without a sea of campers and cars lining the route.
“We are trying to find the best way for the riders to race, without putting them in close contact with others,” Gouvenou said. “That is really the central question and we have spent months focusing on that. How are we going to protect the riders and the teams from a potential contamination?”
Tour officials have also been pushing a clear message to fans under the banner of “2020” — two meters of distance, zero autographs, two essential items of face masks and hand sanitizer, and zero selfies.
So far it seems to be working. The peloton was relieved to leave Nice and its “red zone” status in the rearview mirror. Every stage without incident will be a victory for everyone inside the Tour entourage this summer.
James Startt contributed to this report.