Photo gallery: A socially-distanced Tour de France teams presentation
The 2020 Tour de France is almost upon us, but the usually sunny optimism of this longed-for race is tempered by the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. The race will start in a region that is on red alert for COVID-19, as a worrying resurgence of the virus is gripping large parts of France. In three weeks, the cycling world hopes, the race will finish in Paris, also on red alert. In the interim, the story is as-yet unwritten.
As the eyes of the world focus on the Tour, an unseen enemy stalks the perimeter of the race. The race organisers know that they need to get this right. The French government knows that they need to get this right. But what does that look like? Is it even possible?
The Tour will spend its opening three days of racing around Nice, before heading to the mountains on Tuesday. When it does, there will be relief in Nice, which paid millions to host the race on the hope of a tourist windfall and now is left juggling a hot potato. “We want zero mistakes by Monday [when the race leaves Nice],” mayor Christian Estroti said. “We want to show people around the world that we are beyond reproach.” Meanwhile, France’s prime minister Jean Castex, who conceded that “the pandemic is regaining ground and now’s the time to intervene”, was also at pains to point out that “the places where the virus spreads and there is transmission have no organisation. The Tour has an organiser.”
On Thursday, a day on which France recorded its second-highest number of new COVID-19 infections ever, the Lotto-Soudal organisation sent two staff members home after they returned ‘non-negative’ results, and the Tour de France presentation took place. In contrast to normal years, it was a muted affair, with caps on the number of spectators, space around seats, and a closely-guarded compound.
Through the lenses of Gruber Images and Cor Vos, this is the entrée to what may be a very strange bike race.