ILE DE RE, France (VN) — It was quite the scene at the start in Ile d’Oléron this morning ahead of the news about the required COVID-19 controls.
Teams were told not to say anything until an official statement was released, but in today’s Twitter-fied landscape, details were leaking faster than officials could punch up a press release.
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In the end, it was a bit anti-climactic after it was confirmed none of the riders tested positive for COVID-19. And to be honest, everyone was pretty relieved it turned out that way.
Everyone here on the ground seems pretty invested in trying to push this Tour to Paris.
Seeing a few teams out of the Tour today would have created a huge scandal. Instead, everyone shrugged their shoulders and got on with the business of racing their bikes.
Having said that, there were certainly some nerves coming into Tuesday. Everyone knew if two people tested positive inside their bubble, they’d be going home.
Riders were relieved at the start because teams and riders have been doing their part to respect their “bubbles” and follow the rules.
The fact that only four staffers from four different teams tested positive suggests that the “bubble” concept is working. Four out of nearly 700 is a pretty good percentage.
In the end, it was none other than Tour race director Christian Prudhomme who was the biggest name to be removed from the race Tuesday.
Prudhomme, who was asymptomatic, was not part of the “inner” bubble of the teams and riders, but underwent testing anyway. He will self-isolate for eight days, and might return to the race if he tests negative next week.
Photographers crowded around the Tour’s No. 1 car at the start to get the snappie of Prudhomme’s lieutenant taking his spot in the lead race car.
Four teams did receive “yellow cards” with one positive inside their bubbles — Ag2r-La Mondiale, Cofidis, Ineos Grenadiers, and Mitchelton-Scott. They could be kicked out of the Tour if someone else tests positive within a week.
The next round of tests will be on the next rest day on September 14, so those teams will be walking on eggshells all week.
With Ineos Grenadiers among the teams with a positive, it would be quite something if defending champion Egan Bernal is removed from the Tour de France.
After the morning nerves, it was back to the business of racing bikes.
At least the show can go on, and the race — so far — won’t have a COVID asterisk.
Bennett cries tears of relief
Winning a Tour de France stage can turn the hardest of hard men into crybabies.
That’s what happened to Sam Bennett, whose finish line tears only reconfirmed that professional cyclists leave everything out on the road every single day.
The Irishman’s victory came Tuesday after a long string of close calls and with a huge pile of pressure piled on for good measure. Quick-Step has a long tradition of sprinters, and Bennett joined the “Wolfpack” in 2020 with pressure to win. Just in the past few years, such riders as Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Fernando Gaviria, and Elia Viviani built on the Belgian team’s Tour de France pedigree.
Bennett simply couldn’t leave this Tour without a win.
This is Bennett’s third Tour start — he rode in 2015 and 2016 with Bora-Hansgrohe — but this is the first year he has a team to support him in the sprints.
Bennett broke down in tears as emotion came pouring out at the finish line.
“Everything was so perfect today I almost didn’t believe it when it happened,” he said. “So many good riders have delivered here, and I needed to win to pay everyone back. It is such a relief.”
With the win, Bennett is back in green as he and Peter Sagan are in a real tug-of-war for the points jersey. When asked if he’d rather win green or sprint victorious down the Champs-Élysées, Bennett paused.
“My dream races to win are Milan-San Remo, the world championships and on the Champs,” he said. “I never thought about the green until I was wearing it. It’s something special to wear it. I’ll take whatever comes.”
Quintana isn’t happy with fifth
Nairo Quintana looks his sharpest in years. After a strong ride Saturday, he was slightly off the best Sunday, ceding a few seconds to the front-line favorites to settle into fifth overall at 32 seconds back.
That’s still an encouraging start for Quintana, who seems happier with his move to Arkea-Samsic.
“We’re not happy with fifth place. That’s not what we came for,” said sport director Yvon Ledanois. “We’ve seen some interesting things that make us believe that we can go even better in the GC. Seeing how strong Nairo is right now, settling just for fifth would be a bit of a disappointment.”
Those are fighting words. Let’s see if Nairo-Man can stay with the best next week.
All eyes now turn toward the Alps. A mountaintop finale Friday and Grand Colombier on Sunday are appetizers for what looms in the final week.
Wednesday’s stage 11
Despite complaining about how hard the start was of this year’s Tour de France, the sprinters are getting their chances.
Wednesday’s 167.5km stage from Châtelaillon-Plage to Poitiers should be another one for a mass gallop.
Stage 11 should be one of the easiest of this year’s Tour, which means that something crazy will probably happen.
The GC riders will still be tightly wound, fearful of crosswinds that can whip up in the rolling farmland of the Vienne. With a big breakaway day waiting Thursday, the sprinter teams will keep a leash on any would-be escape artists.
With Bennett feeling confident, call it two in a row for the Irishman.