Today the Tour de France starts – with spectators on the way. The number of corona infections is exploding in France. That worries the German cyclist John Degenkolb, but he is not afraid.
While almost all major sporting events can do without spectators in times of the corona pandemic, the Tour de France does not want without them. But the number of infections in France has increased significantly recently, to more than 6,000 cases nationwide per day. When the first stage starts in Nice today (from 3 p.m. in the live ticker of Chillreport), it is by far not only about sport – especially since Nice is also a risk area. That is of course also the concern of the German cyclist John Degenkolb of the Lotto-Soudal team, who is back at the start of the “Grand Boucle” after a year’s break.
Chillreport: Mr. Degenkolb, you have not completed a tour stage in 772 days. Do you remember how that feels?
John Degenkolb: At least I have withdrawal symptoms! (laughs) But of course I still remember what the Tour feels like, I can almost feel the very special atmosphere in France that cannot be compared to any other race. However, the tour will be different this year – and I’m excited to see what it will feel like.
The pandemic is ubiquitous. To what extent does the organizer take this into account?
Yes, Corona is currently the dominant topic. And of course the ASO (short for Amaury Sport Organization, the organizer of the race; note from the editor) takes this into account. From constant tests for everyone participating in the tour – from the drivers to the team to the journalists. In addition, some highlights in the mountains will not be accessible or only to a limited extent to spectators. On the one hand this is unfortunate, of course, but on the other it is certainly a good way to increase safety for all involved.
Some virologists warn of the high risk of infection. On the track, fans are usually close together and at other races drivers have criticized that not all spectators adhered to the mask requirement. Isn’t it really irresponsible to go on tour under these circumstances?
I’m not a virologist and I don’t want to become one of the 80 million hobby virologists I think already exist (laughs). But if you listen to them carefully, you can take away that being in the fresh air isn’t really that dangerous if everyone follows the rules. In my view, viewers should therefore wear a mask and keep their distance – which is fortunately not that difficult, because the route is long enough.
Born in Gera, he has been riding for the Lotto-Soudal team since 2020. In 2015 he triumphed in the spring classics Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix. In 2018 he won his first Tour de France stage in Roubaix.
But let’s be honest: there are no or – or not at all – a few hundred spectators in football. On the tour we are now talking about several million. Is that understandable for you personally?
Fortunately, unlike football, our sport does not take place in an indoor stadium with a fairly narrow entrance and exit situation. Of course, the 4,000 kilometers of the tour also offer significantly more space along the route to keep distances, not to mention: normally the tour actually takes place when the whole world is on a summer vacation. That is different this time, and the many fans who usually come to the tour from abroad, from Australia, New Zealand or Colombia, will not be there this time either. And where traditionally a lot happens, on the big climbs, the tour wants to limit access quite a bit – which I think is good and correct.
Before the tour you said to “Sport Bild”: “You are already thinking about the possible late consequences of, for example, a Covid infection.” Are you afraid of Corona?
No, I am not afraid. But of course you try to avoid any risk of infection, because as a competitive athlete you also live on a fully functional body and of course I want to keep that. But this also applies to all other diseases, in this respect it is actually one of the few things that Corona has not fundamentally changed for us competitive athletes – we always try not to get sick. Now, with Corona, I would like the public above all to support us and to abide by the rules. So dear fans: put on your mask and keep your distance. And maybe you watch the tour on TV – last year I saw that it can be fun to see the whole race.
In 2018, John Degenkolb also won his first Tour de France stage in Roubaix. (Source: Image Images)
Let’s get to the sporty side: you are here for the seventh time and when you last competed in 2018, you fulfilled a childhood dream with an emotional victory in Roubaix. Do you have bigger goals?
Finally! (laughs) Seriously, of course I have goals. For me personally, but especially together with my Lotto-Soudal team. I repeat that for every tour and every race: cycling is a team sport and every victory achieved is the result of the hard work of everyone who was there. And so it will be this year too: we want to win, with Caleb Ewan we have a top sprinter for the flat stages and many other very good options that we want to play. It would be nice if we could be successful in the previous stages and then all arrive in Paris together. And if there is an opportunity along the way – I’ll try to take it.
Just like in 2018, there are definitely voices saying, “Degenkolb has no more big wins in his legs.” What do you say to them?
Nothing – what should I say? I think it is absolutely legitimate to have an opinion and express it, and I can deal with it (laughs). And maybe it’s a little extra motivation.
German hopes rest on Emanuel Buchmann on the 2020 tour. After the fourth place last year, he now wants to be on the podium. (Source: PhotoNews / Panoramic / Image Images)
Let’s take a look at the overall victory: Ex-Tour winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas are not there for performance reasons, Steven Kruijswijk was third last year due to injury. Primoz Roglic fell for the tour and is therefore handicapped at the start and last year’s winner, Egan Bernal, suffered from back pain. Doesn’t it smell like a surprise winner – for example, last year’s fourth Emanuel Buchmann, even though the last apron fell?
Actually it would be time for a German tour winner again. But to be fair, Emanuel Buchmann did a great tour last year, and he was in a good mood lately – but remember that at least ten drivers are possible. Just wait and see who’s joining the tour and how, it starts in a mountainous way, and then we’ll see.
And if you had to commit to a winner, who would you bet on?
Luckily I don’t have to commit, I can’t now either. As I said, I see a number of drivers and teams who have a chance of winning the overall. Best to ask me again in two weeks …
Which of the other German drivers is most likely to attract attention and possibly even win?
We are all in a good mood and hopefully we get a good tour from a German perspective too. It would be nice if the public and to some extent the journalists would not only look at victories, but also what they did for their team. Unfortunately, that always goes down a bit.