Nice (dpa) – Just in time for the start of the 107th Tour de France, Nice is red alert. After corona infections have risen dramatically, authorities have tightened measures.
The first two stages in and around Nice now take place “almost behind closed doors”, Bernard Gonzalez announced as prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes region.
So there is a bizarre scene. Yellow is the predominant color on Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais. At first glance, as always, everything is in front of the Grand Départ. The not-so-cheap pavement on the Côte d’Azur is all about the tour, which is announced in large posters and actually wants to roll away on Saturday. But on the street people wear protective masks, which have been mandatory in Nice for a while. This is what it looks like when a tour of France starts in a corona risk area.
It will be a journey into the unknown. It is more than the question whether the tour will actually reach the capital Paris after 3484.2 kilometers – for which, according to the Robert Koch Institute, a travel warning also applies, according to the Robert Koch Institute. “It floats like the sword of Damocles above us, which could be the last any day,” said four-time world time trial champion Tony Martin in an interview with dpa.
The veteran, who is on the Grand Départ for the twelfth time, has not escaped the increasing number of infections. Shortly before the start, a maximum value was registered by the French health authorities. More than 5000 new infections in France in one day. The area was classified as a red zone along with 18 other departments. This means that there is an increased risk of infection.
That spectators – albeit limited – are allowed to stand by the side of the road during the tour, which Martin does not understand. “The situation is getting worse from day to day”, emphasizes the professional rider, adding: “Better a ride without spectators than no ride at all.”
But the tour is a French national sanctuary. And the audience is one of them. “A tour behind closed doors makes no sense”, says tour boss Christian Prudhomme. But does a tour make sense at all in times of crisis? For experts like the pharmacologist Fritz Sörgel, this is an irresponsible undertaking, but an almost existential necessity for the severely damaged cycling teams. 70 percent of the annual budget is generated by the tour.
For this, the teams also apply a strict Corona action plan. The drivers and their immediate entourage are cut off from the “outside world” in their own bubble, have to wear masks almost everywhere outside the race and undergo corona tests twice before the tour and on the rest days. It becomes difficult when two checks in a team are positive within a week. Then the entire race team must be excluded.
Bike manager Ralph Denk of the German team Bora-hansgrohe fears chaos and questions the reliability of the PCR tests. “Not only do I have a stomach ache, I now also have an ulcer,” Denk told the dpa, referring to a case in his team where a driver tested positive for the one-day Brittany Classic race and negative two days later.
In addition to all the testing – the doping control officers also come along, of course – there must be pedaling. From a German perspective, last year’s fourth Emanuel Buchmann cherishes the dream of the podium, even though a fall on the Dauphiné tour threw him back. “A lot is possible, but everything has to fit, especially in the preparation. Unfortunately, we did not succeed”, says Buchmann.
If everything fits together, he may be able to intervene in the expected duel between last year’s winner Egan Bernal and Vuelta champion Primoz Roglic. Last year, at 22 years and 196 days, the Colombian became the youngest tour winner since 1909. Prior to the tour, he won the team’s internal infighting with ex-winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, who are not even on the squad.
He was unable to win Roglic this season. The ex-ski jumper was the high flyer of the season so far, but he was also hit by bad luck. “I’m ready,” said the Slovenian, who is “clearly” teammate Martin’s favorite. If not, Thibaut Pinot’s hour could strike. The Frenchman could have won the Tour last year had a torn thigh not forced him to give up. Will it succeed this time with the first French victory since Bernard Hinault 35 years ago?
A total of twelve German drivers embark on the adventure. Including ex-master Maximilian Schachmann despite a collarbone fracture he sustained more than two weeks ago in a fall. When it comes to falling, the Berliner expects “a massacre” during the tour, as he told the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”.
The route suits the mountain specialists. Already on the second day it goes into the high mountains. Then there are four more mountain arrivals waiting for the drivers. The decision has to be taken on the penultimate day of the mountain time trial in La Planche des Belles Filles. Until then, the tour must shake off the corona virus as an invisible opponent.