Over the last few weeks, ASO (organisers of the Tour de France) have been putting a number of different scenarios out in the public domain for how their race could take place. None of these solutions are good solutions, so it appears to be the Dominic Raab tactic, trying to throw as much brown stuff into the media as they can, to see which one smells the least repulsive to the public. Almost every solution before a vaccine for Covid-19 is found & distributed, creates a ‘second wave’ of infections, every one looks incredibly risky.
As far as I can see a very long delay to hold it after summer is the least smelly, but even that is questionable in reality. If they decide to somehow plough ahead in July with the support of the government, then the winner to be likely be someone similar to that guy on your local chain gang, the rather sturdy ex-racer who would never consider observing a lockdown if it stopped him drinking Tennents in the park on a nice ‘tapsaff‘ day, but he’s always there at the end, telling you to come through. A ‘last man standing’ type of rider, that’s a July 2020 Tour winner, it’s not going to be a skinny climber who’s body weight would gain 5% just by a few virus particle being present in their lungs.
Nobody has any idea what level of social distancing rules will be in place, along with much talked-of second-wave of infections, which appears to be starting to happen in China (this written in early April), so we can assume that some kind of rules will still be in place in July. If it did happen, you would have to limit the chance of riders catching each other, they’d need to be as far apart as Noel & Liam Gallacher for this to work, no bunches or team time trials, it would therefore have to be a series of individual time trials to comply with social distancing rules.
There’s also a major issue with other sports, if the French government allowed the Tour to take place, it would suffer multiple legal battles with the other sports federations to allow their events to take place. It’s far to risky for the French government to consider giving special dispensation for the worlds biggest annual sporting event, if they don’t also allow the round ballers & oblong ballers to also ply their trade.
Surely ASO’s main reason for pushing for it to happen in July is self preservation, to honour the payments they’ve recieved from the towns on the route, so they don’t have to reimburse them. In order to avoid this, they’d have to visit all the towns who have coughed up the large sums involved. So consider the individual time-trial Tour did actually happen. The first rider left at 8am, with a 200km course to tackle. He’s going to take maybe 5 hours, so finishes at 1pm, that leaves 5 hours until the last rider is scheduled to finish, in order to fit into early evening TV time slots. So you need to get 200 riders on the road in 5 hours (300 minutes). That’s 1 min 30 seconds between riders, you’d need at the very least 20 or 30 minutes to limit catches. This is unworkable, as is bunch racing in a lockdown. A July Tour isn’t going to happen.
Pro racing cyclists are fragile beings, living on the edge of being ill to maintain their lowest weight possible, like supermodels or siamese cats, as I’ve blogged before. I’m sure nobody is considering that riding in Watopia or Super Mario Kart world alone is going to fully prepare riders for the Tour, so these riders will have to train outdoors, with all the risks accompanied with venturing into a Mad Max style dystopian world.
They would also be unable to train with other riders, so we have the added risk of riders not having ridden with anybody else since early March, becoming social media choppers & suddenly being placed in a Tour bunch is going to be messy, another reason for bunch racing not to happen.
Some countries are locked down, others not, some semi-locked down, so the opportunities to train outdoors, or even get to the Tour de France are limited & random, depending on where you live. What if Colombia goes into a complete household lockdown, a whole nation of contenders would be disadvantaged, plus they wouldn’t even be able to get there.
The flights situation is significant too, the Tour gathers not just riders, but team workers, journalists & many other professions from all over the world. If France allowed the Tour to happen before the risk level had reduced, the Tour de France itself could be responsible for a second wave of Covid-19 infections throughout the country. Nobody wants Richard Moore in their town knowing fine well he’s was at the Edinburgh RC summer BBQ the week before, *potentially* loaded with salmonella, Covid-19 & still smelling of Pimms Aftershock.
*Nobody is suggesting that Richard partakes in gin/liquer based cocktails on a regular basis.
In order to have a level playing field (sorry for using that term), all countries would have to have been in a similar lockdown situation, plus the countries they connect flights to France would have to be in a similar situation. Some riders may have to take multiple flights through different countries to get to France, others a direct flight, this is a serious disadvantage to some riders & also an additional risk to picking up the infection.
ASO proposed, holding the Tour behind closed doors in July, running it in the normal format, this has numerous problems & some very clear dangers, this idea is as unworkable as a French farmers party hosted by Bernard Hinault.
Firstly, you’re going to need an army to police this, people are going to want to watch it, they’ve been sitting in their houses for maybe 3 or 4 months & probably pretty close to running out of Ricard Pastis, the Tour goes past, they’re going ot the roadside whether you like it or not. That means crowds, that means virus transmission, that means holding the Tour could actually kill people.
‘Closed doors’ also means that stage start/finish towns have an influx of riders, staff, journalists, where the hotels would have to re-open, so it’s not really closed doors. One contagious rider could infect a bunch, which infects the team, which infects the hotel staff, which infects the town, which infects the wider area & country. That’d be like sending an infected Prince Charles to Balmoral creating an infection hotspot, which we know would never happen. Yet again, another scenario which creates the second wave of infections.
The Virtual Tour
Without a doubt, this is going to happen in July at the time the Tour would have been scheduled. Whether officially or not, some riders will decide to ride the Tour online. There’s opportunities here, but it’s more than likely that there will also be legal complications too, ASO will surely fight any attempt to do this without it being santioned by them & will not have the flexibility to organise it themselves, regardless of it being a UCI event or not.
Some riders will be so frustrated by this point that it’ll happen anyway, then we’ll watch it, because we’re so frustrated too, so the format will work, anything to get us away from the 24 hour news cycle or watching the entire Paw Patrol series with the kids, for the 15th time.
What’s going to happen
Based on the problems associated with each scenario above, it looks like the most likely option if the Tour is to take place at all in 2020, is a very late one. Not just a month behind, but at least two months, perhaps in September if a vaccine is available in August! If this is the case, the chance of losing mountain stages due to weather is much higher, bear in mind we lost one-and-a-half mountain stages in July 2019. So there’s really only one way a 2020 late Tour can go, with potential full stage time trials across locked down areas, it’s Thomas De Gendt’s to lose, place your bets (I’m not responsible for loses).
Image: Creative commons licence via Cedric Franchetti