Vuelta a España race director Javier Guillén breathed just as deep a sigh of relief as the racers themselves when he saw the Tour de France race into Paris this weekend.
With little more than four weeks until the Vuelta rolls out of northern town Irún on October 20, seeing the Tour succeed gave Guillén both hope and a blueprint to follow.
“It was very important that the Tour ended. Very important!,” Gullen told AS this week. “The reality is that the Tour has started and ended without incident … If you ask me what would have happened if the Tour had not ended or had ended badly? Well, then I would answer that the Vuelta would have a serious problem. The Tour is the wheel to follow.”
Many were saying the Tour would never reach Paris. However, with race organizers ASO and the UCI imposing a range of strict sanitary measures including team “bubbles,” carefully restricted fan and media access, and a number of mandatory COVID checks both before and during the race, the peloton lasted the 21 stages without a single rider being tested positive.
Guillén, whose race is also controlled by ASO, plans to copycat the procedures used in France.
“Its protocol is an example and we are going to carry it out with the same restrictions and the same forcefulness,” he said. “And what we can reinforce, we will reinforce. Because the intention is to have a radically healthy bubble.”
The Tour circus didn’t come through totally unscathed, however, with Tour boss Christian Prudhomme himself testing positive for COVID-19, along with four team staffers. The race president left the peloton for seven days during the middle of the event before returning for the closing stages. However, as Guillén pointed out, it’s preferable that management is infected rather than a rider, “because that is the most important thing for the race.”
“What you have to give Prudhomme is congratulations on a historic Tour and recognizing the transparency they have had,” Guillén added. “I was glad that he recovered, that he rejoined and that he was able to make it to Paris.
Just as the Tour was stalked by the threat of coronavirus shuttering the race at any moment, with the peloton passing through several “red zones” of COVID hotspots in France, the Vuelta faces a fierce battle with the virus. Spanish outlet El Pais stated Wednesday that cases of coronavirus in the country “are increasingly resembling those seen during the peak of the pandemic in March and April.”
Nonetheless, for Guillén, it’s still a case of vamos for the Vuelta.
“From the organization, we do not consider that there is no race,” he said bullishly. “We do not consider another scenario. We have spoken with the teams and not a single one has in mind that there will be no race. Everyone can understand that I don’t know how the pandemic is going to evolve. Yes, I follow its evolution very carefully.”
Guillén will be active in discouraging fans from attending his 18-day race, actively promoting a message of “La Vuelta en casa” (“The Vuelta at home”) in the hope of minimizing the potential for the large crowds sometimes seen in France in the past month.