Will the Tour de France become a Covid-19 superspreader?

The Tour de France starts on Saturday – the only major sporting event during the corona pandemic with spectators. Many observers just don’t understand that. Now the number of cases is also increasing enormously. This is not the only reason why the question is whether the race will end.

The noise came from the boxes, the few guests on the much too large-looking Place Masséna got clapping plastic hands. The big party as a prelude to the 107th Tour de France only took place on a small scale. After more than 75,000 fans in Brussels cheered the rider and cycling legend Eddy Merckx last year, this time less than the 1,000 spectators allowed lost in front of the big podium in Nice.

For good reason. The region on the Côte d’Azur has been declared a “Red Zone” since Thursday because of the sharp increase in the number of corona infections – just like 20 other departments in the Grande Nation. Mandatory mask also has the highest priority in the open air, which is why the hopeful German Emanuel Buchmann presented himself with a chic face mask in a team outfit and the label: “Bonjour Le Tour”.

More than 6,000 new corona cases in one day

The 176 drivers were sent on 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. The number of infections has been rising rapidly for days and the French Ministry of Health has now for the first time reported more than 6,000 positive cases in one day.

The question is, should you start the race at all in these circumstances? This has been the subject of heated discussions throughout the tour. Proponents stress the organizers’ elaborate hygiene concept, while critics fear that the virus will again spread en masse during the big event.

Tour de France in Nice: On Thursday at the team presentation, all drivers wore masks according to the regulations. (Source: image images / PHOTONEWS / PANORAMIC)Tour de France in Nice: On Thursday at the team presentation, all drivers wore masks according to the regulations. (Source: PHOTONEWS / PANORAMIC / image images)

Will the tour be a “superspreading event”?

This is also what the virologist Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit is concerned about. The University of Hamburg researcher points to an increased risk of infection due to the gathering of larger groups of people, which is more than true for the hundreds of thousands of spectators along the route. “We know that the coronavirus spreads through droplets. When we sing, cheer, shout, we throw these droplets out very strongly and very far. Other people could then inhale these droplets and become infected,” explains Schmidt-Chanasit. from Deutsche Welle. He warns that spacing rules and mask requirements are being ignored: “That could trigger a super-expanding event.”

And the virus does not detour past the teams. On Thursday there were two “non-negative” cases with the Belgian racing team Lotto-Soudal, which is also a nice description. The two caretakers were sent home as their two roommates. It is still to be feared that these will not be the last cases.

Team Degenkolb sends managers home

The team around the two German lottery drivers John Degenkolb and Roger Kluge had nothing to fear. Exclusion was not an option, also because the regulations were weakened in the short term. The entire race team will only be excluded if there are at least two positive corona tests by drivers of a team within a seven day period. This no longer includes the immediate environment such as physiotherapists, bus drivers or team officials, as the French sports newspaper “L’Equipe” reported. The organizer has apparently realized that otherwise only a small group of drivers would be able to finish the race.

“Like a sword of Damocles over us”: Tony Martin (left) expects the Tour de France to be interrupted every day. (Source: PhotoNews / Panoramic / Image Images)

Either way, a demolition floats “like the sword of Damocles,” said Tony Martin, fearing that “any day may be the last.” The veteran, who is taking part in the Grand Départ for the twelfth time, is aware of the situation. “The situation is getting worse from day to day”, says the professional cyclist and does not understand why spectators are allowed: “Better a tour without spectators than no tour at all.”

Stricter Precautions

At least for the first two days, the measures were tightened up. Instead of the maximum of 5,000 spectators in the start and finish area, only a few dozen people should be admitted. So a tour starts “almost behind closed doors”, as announced by Bernard Gonzalez as prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes region. “Also along the racetrack it must be ensured that fan groups do not clump too much,” said Deutsche Welle virologist Schmidt-Chanasit. How realistic that is, however, is another matter. After all, access to the mountains was severely limited. Prefect Gonzalez said, “If I can give viewers any advice, watch the climbs on TV.”

Worrying look: Tour boss Christian Prudhomme faces three uncertain race weeks. (Source: image images / PHOTONEWS / PANORAMIC)Worrying look: Tour boss Christian Prudhomme faces three uncertain race weeks. (Source: PHOTONEWS / PANORAMIC / image images)

Tour boss Christian Prudhomme has to gradually distance himself from his maxim, which was always: “A tour behind closed doors makes no sense.” A scenario that experts such as pharmacologist Fritz Sörgel have called “irresponsible”. For the cycling teams, however, the trip is almost vital, as 70 percent of the annual budget is generated there.

Buchmann’s big goal

From a German perspective, Buchmann is the center of attention. For team boss Ralph Denk, a top placement of the climbing specialist after the fall in the Dauphiné tour would be like ‘winning the lottery’, but the fourth in the previous year doesn’t want to say goodbye to his goals: ‘My goal is still the podium. But that’s it are a few question marks. “

If you believe the experts, the tour win will be determined by last year’s winner Egan Bernal from Colombia and Vuelta champion Primoz Roglic. The defending champion has already assigned the role of favorite to the ex-ski jumper from Slovenia. “He was the strongest in the last races. He flew,” said Bernal, referring to his strong Jumbo Visma team, which includes Tony Martin. “We’re not so sure. But you can’t just think and say, ‘Ineos is the top favorite.’ We have experienced the role very clearly in recent weeks, ”says Martin.

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