"For Nice, it's a beautiful symbol to show life is returning." The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, was a delighted man when Christian Prudhomme, director of cycling events at Amaury Sport Organisation, was able to announce a new date for the Tour de France. The peloton was set to ride through Nice on June 27. It will eventually visit the Promenade des Anglais this weekend, with the Grand Départ to be held on Saturday 29 August, and it will reach Paris at an unusual date, on September 20.
"Nissa la Bella" ("Nice the beautiful", as the inhabitants have nicknamed their beloved city) will see the caravan of the Tour sail from the Mediterranean coastline for three and a half weeks of touring adapted to this year’s circumstances. The "Grande Boucle" is always a party but this one is more anticipated than ever by cycling fans and by the many professionals who benefit from its buzzing activities. To welcome the Tour means to step onto an international stage – the race is broadcast in 190 countries and TV images reach 3.5 billion spectators. The race for the iconic yellow jersey won't come along with summer holidays but it will benefit from the dynamic carried by spectacular races since the return of competitive road cycling after months of frustrations for the fans.
"Organising is about adjusting"
At the end of a summer severely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, to see the Tour’s peloton riding through France seems like a minor miracle, the kind that many called for in the darkest moments. When French authorities imposed a lockdown at the beginning of spring, it was hard to imagine the Colombian defending champion Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) battling it out with his rivals from all around the world on the slopes of the Col de la Loze or up the Grand-Colombier. Other top tier events such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the UEFA European Football Championship were being pushed to 2021 and many feared the 2020 summer would go by without major sport events...
Christian Prudhomme and the whole family of cycling managed to adapt to circumstances: "Organising is about adjusting. Taking on this challenge began with gaining the support of all the local representatives involved."
The partners of the Tour de France committed to the race. With the collaboration of event organisers, the UCI worked on establishing a new calendar. Safety protocols were established, with steady controls and bubbles to limit the risks of spreading the Covid-19 virus and to isolate potential cases as soon as possible. Award ceremonies are also facing new constraints and ASO estimate there will be around 3,000 people traveling with the Tour, compared with the usual 5,000.
The constraints are largely accepted: the Tour will happen and the participants are relieved, with riders and team managers seeing some light at the end of a rough tunnel. "Without the Tour de France, the whole economic model of cycling could fall down," Deceuninck – Quick- Step Manager Patrick Lefevere had warned. The Belgian boss, his sponsors and the supporters are used to seeing the Wolfpack shining in July: 12 stage wins in the past three editions and an epic run in yellow for Julian Alaphilippe to captivate the whole world last summer.
The French star will attend the Tour de France in August, with a strong team set to capture the fans' hearts again.
Getting the cycling party started
The teams who were granted wild cards are also eager to illuminate the end of the summer. "Whenever it is, may it be a beautiful party", Jérôme Pineau told French newspapers. The young manager of B&B Hôtels - Vital Concept has ridden the Tour de France 13 times. His team is now set for a maiden participation in their first season and it would have been devastating to see them miss on this opportunity.
French supporters will be able to cheer with Pineau's Breton squad and they also dream of a glorious Saturday 19th September: on the eve of the Parisian finish, with a parade on the Champs-Élysées after three weeks of battles across France, the Vosges summits could just crown a local hero. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) will race on his training roads when tackling the individual time-trial up the climb of La-Planche-des-Belles-Filles, a key stage in this Tour.
Thirty-five years after Bernard Hinault's last victory, and a year after Pinot’s devastating abandon, the French climber will have his opportunity to challenge again for a historic victory. He'll be accompanied by the clamour of the spectators, who will have to respect France's safety measures and are invited to wear face masks as they cheer for the riders. "The Tour is a 3,500km line of smiles," Christian Prudhomme often says. From August 29 until September 20, these smiles will be masked but they will be everywhere from Nice to Paris.