The first week of the 107th edition of the Tour de France was a complete test not only for riders, facing a long race after the five-month stop due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but also for the organisation of big sports events in the “new normal”.
Just before the start of the race, which took place on the 29th of August in Nice (France), everybody involved – including the riders and staff of each team – had to undergo PCR tests to rule out any coronavirus infection. As determined by the French government and the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), if a team returns two positive tests for Covid-19, it will be removed from the race.
To keep the cyclists as protected as possible, each team is keeping its own bubble, communication with the media is done from a good distance and press officers ensure easy telematic contact with the riders and staff. Also, the public can’t get in contact with the cyclists at the start or at the end of each stage.
Although the first week of the Tour de France is not usually known for a lot of action, it was expected that this year would be different, considering that the cyclists have only recently returned from a COVID-19 induced lengthy break to face their first three-week race of the season. The competition kicked off on the first day with a stage full of action due to the rain, which made the streets of and around Nice a sliding trap in which most of the peloton crashed. It finished with a bunch sprint as expected, which was won by the Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff who wore the Yellow Jersey in the first podium ceremony.
The next day, the peloton hit a hilly route again in Nice, and there the local rider Julian Alaphilippe claimed the victory and took the Yellow Jersey, something that he had already experienced as he was on top of the General Classification for eleven days in the 2019 edition of the race.
While Alaphilippe wore the leader’s jersey for the next two stages, sprinter Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and one of the favourites to take the final victory at the end of the race, Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), tasted the day’s glory. On the fifth day of competition, the Frenchman received a 20-second penalty for receiving a bottle from the side of the road in the last 20 kilometres, and lost the Yellow Jersey to British rider Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who won the Young rider Classification in 2016.
Yates remained on top of the overall classification for the next four stages, in which Belgian cyclist Wout van Aert took the victories of the fifth and seventh day of competition, the latter being after a heavy stage affected by the wind and in which one of the overall favourites, Slovenian Tadej Pogacar from UAE Team Emirates, lost time to his main rivals.
But the young rider didn’t settle for that and during the first mountain stages – the eight and the ninth – he showed an aggressive style that not only saw him take back half of the time he lost, but that also gave him his first victory in the French race. While he celebrated the win of the ninth stage, his fellow countryman Roglic took the Yellow Jersey before the first rest day of the race, and the top five of the overall standings still includes other favourites for the final victory: Egan Bernal – who won the race in 2019, Guillaume Martin, Romain Bardet and Nairo Quintana.
The first week of competition in the Tour de France has taken the sport and the fans closer to a sense of normality and has allowed visibility for the cyclists and sponsors, both of which are vital for the survival of cycling after the crisis recedes.
One of the most prominent worries about the current health situation in France has been the crowds that have roamed to the climbs of the race, which in the first week were in the Pyrenees. Although the crowds are considerably smaller than in past editions of the race, it is visible that people aren’t maintaining the security distance, they insist on touching the riders and a good amount don’t wear masks.
On the first rest day of the race, the entire peloton and staff will undergo new Covid-19 tests that will reveal how the protocols are working in the race.