CORONAVIRUS

Tour de France Starts Two Months Late Amid COVID Epidemic

Aug 29, 2020, 11:10 AM
Start / Michael Morkov of Denmark and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step / Sam Bennett of Ireland and Tea...
Start / Michael Morkov of Denmark and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step / Sam Bennett of Ireland and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step / Sergio Andres Higuita Garcia of Colombia and Team EF Pro Cycling / Giacomo Nizzolo of Italy and NTT Pro Cycling Team / Ryan Gibbons of South Africa and NTT Pro Cycling Team / Mask / Covid safety measures / during the 107th Tour de France 2020, Stage 1 a 156km stage from Nice Moyen Pays to Nice / #TDF2020 / @LeTour / on August 29, 2020 in Nice, France. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

NICE, France (AP) — Delayed but alive again and out on French roads, the strangest Tour de France ever set off Saturday in a bubble of anti-COVID protocols to try to keep the 176 riders virus-free for three weeks of racing through the country’s worsening epidemic.

Only after riders peeled off their face masks and raced off from the start in the Mediterranean city of Nice, serenaded by a uniformed band playing “La Marseillaise,” did the Tour begin to look like its old, pre-COVID self, immediately delivering thrills and spills as storms made the roads as slippy as ice.

But with fans kept firmly at arm’s length, told by the government that it was best to stay home and watch the racing on television, the Tour lost much of its festive atmosphere. There was very little of the usual up-close communing between athletes and their adoring public that made the venerable 117-year-old rolling roadshow so unique among sports events in more carefree times.

Powering past thin crowds on the finishing straight in Nice that would usually have been many rows deep, Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff won the first stage with a fearsome final sprint. He celebrated by giving a COVID-sensible fist-bump to a teammate.


NICE, France (AP) — French authorities have made it harder for Tour de France teams to reach the finish line in Paris by deciding they will be expelled from the race if two or more of their members, including staff, test positive for COVID-19 within a week.

Following guidelines issued by the health authorities, the move was announced Saturday by Tour organizers just a few hours before the start of the three-week race’s opening stage in the Riviera city of Nice. It overruled a decision from cycling’s governing body, the UCI, that had eased the Tour’s exclusion rules.

Under the UCI protocol announced Friday, it would have been up to organizers to decide whether to throw a team out after two positive tests, with staff members not counted.

There are 22 squads of eight riders competing at the Tour, but a total of 30 members per team when staff are included.

“From two positive cases in a group of 30, there is a real risk of elimination of a team,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme told France Info radio.

The UCI’s revised protocol had excluded staff members from the calculations following complaints from teams who feared their riders would be unfairly excluded from the race.

This week, four staff members of the Belgian team Lotto-Soudal were sent home after “non-negative” coronavirus tests. The team said a mechanic and a member of the rider support staff returned “one positive and one suspicious result.” Both left the race bubble along with their roommates.

In case of a positive result during the race, the UCI has urged organizers to “do everything possible” to perform a retest and a blood analysis before the next stage. The measure is aimed at avoiding false positive tests that could rule out healthy riders.

Tour organizers have set up a mobile coronavirus lab that can produce results in two hours and handle 50 tests a day on race days. However, Prudhomme said he can’t guarantee a rider will be given the additional tests before he is removed from the race following an initial positive result.

“If it’s in the evening, we will adapt so it can be done. But if we have a positive in the morning, he obviously won’t be on the starting line if we don’t have time for the follow-up test,” Prudhomme said.

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Tour de France Starts Two Months Late Amid COVID Epidemic