Coronavirus resurgence casts shadow on the Tour de France

Teams have been warned by organisers that they would have to drop out of the race should two of their members test positive or show strong symptoms of COVID-19.

A man wearing a protective face mask installs a banner for the 2020 Tour de France on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.   -  REUTERS

Whether the Tour de France will celebrate a winner this year is anyone’s guess as the world’s greatest cycling race starts in Nice on Saturday amid fears of a ‘second wave’ of COVID-19.

New coronavirus cases have been rising at an alarming rate in France since the beginning of the month, casting a menacing shadow over the re-scheduled 107th edition of the race.

Coronavirus tests will be conducted in a mobile unit throughout the three-week race, which will go through southern, western and central France, the Pyrenees and the Alps and include eight mountain stages.

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Riders will be tested six and three days before the Grand Depart in Nice. Any individuals who test positive along the race will be isolated while contacts between the teams and Tour followers — media, fans and organisers — will be strictly restricted.

Teams have been warned by organisers that they would have to drop out of the race should two of their members test positive or show strong symptoms of COVID-19.

The rule, however,  is expected to be relaxed, a senior team staffer, who declined to be named because they are not free to discuss the matter, told Reuters.

Testing riders regularly has been an expensive exercise for the cycling outfits, with Groupama-FDJ doctor Jacky Maillot saying it has cost them 130,000 euros ($154,000) for the season.

Fans on the road could also be a danger if they do not abide by the protocols that have been put in place, although no rider scheduled to take part in the Tour has tested positive since racing resumed last month following a four-month suspension.

“So far cycling has not tripped on any obstacle,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme told Reuters.

“There will be police officers on the climbs, who will filter the crowd and make sure fans are wearing masks since I'm confident all the local authorities will make it mandatory.”

Spectators along the road will have to adhere to the two-metre social distancing rule and they will not be allowed anywhere near the team buses at the start of the stages.

The Aug. 12-16 Criterium du Dauphine, which served as a dress rehearsal for the Tour, was completed without a glitch but the scale will be much bigger on the 21-stage Tour de France which concludes in Paris on Sept. 20.

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Prudhomme said the Tour would not be stopped if there were positive cases in the peloton, leaving it instead to regional health agencies to advise on the way to proceed.

“The Tour de France will not stop if there's a positive case, even if nobody knows whether it will be completed or not,” said International Cycling Union (UCI) president David Lappartient.

The route for the 2020 Tour de France
  • Aug 29. Stage 1 - Nice - Nice 156km; Aug 30. Stage 2 - Nice - Nice 186km; Aug 31. Stage 3 - Nice - Sisteron 198km; Sept 1. Stage 4 - Sisteron - Orcieres-Merlette 160.5km; Sept 2. Stage 5 - Gap - Privas 183km
  • Sept 3. Stage 6 - Le Teil - Mont Aigoual 191km; Sept 4. Stage 7 - Millau - Lavaur 168km; Sept 5. Stage 8 - Cazeres-sur-Garonne - Loudenvielle 141km; Sept 6. Stage 9 - Pau - Laruns 153km; Sept 7. Rest day - Charente-Maritime; Sept 8. Stage 10 - Ile dOleron - Ile de Re 168.5km
  • Sept 9. Stage 11 - Chatelaillon Place - Poitiers 167.5km; Sept 10. Stage 12 - Chauvigny - Sarran 218km; Sept 11. Stage 13 - Chatel Guyon - Puy Mary Cantal 191.5km; Sept 12. Stage 14 - Clermont Ferrand - Lyon 194km; Sept 13. Stage 15 - Lyon - Grand Colombier 174.5; Sept 14. Rest day - Isere;
  • Sept 15. Stage 16 - La-Tour-du-Pin - Villard-de-Lans 164km; Sept 16. Stage 17 - Grenoble - Meribel Col de la Loze 170km; Sept 17. Stage 18 - Meribel - La Roche sur Foron 175km; Sept 18. Stage 19 - Bourg-en-Bresse - Champagnole 166.5km; Sept 19. Stage 20 - Lure - La Planche des Belles Filles, individual time trial 36.2km; Sept 20. Stage 21 - Mantes-la-Jolie - Paris Champs-Elysees 122km

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