Thu. Oct 22nd, 2020

Tour de France: Can race go ahead without the ‘soul of the sport?’

7 min read

(CNN)With the list of sporting postponements growing ever longer, the fate of cycling’s Tour de France would seem almost inevitable.

The world’s most prestigious bike race takes place annually in France and sometimes the surrounding countries. One of the most supreme tests of sporting endurance, the event is also embedded in French culture and society, will millions of fans lining the roads to watch the Tour.Which perhaps explains why organizers have remained tight-lipped about how the Tour — currently scheduled to begin in Nice on June 27 — might be impacted by the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has brought Europe to a standstill.

    France’s sports minister Roxana Maracineanu has suggested that the race, one of cycling’s three “Grand Tours” alongside the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana, could go ahead behind closed doors.

    Anthony Perez, Lilian Calmejane, Stephane Rossetto and Thomas De Gendt pass by fields of sunflowers during last year’s Tour de France.READ: Fixing 2021 sporting calendar will be like a ‘huge jigsaw puzzle’Read MoreASO, the sporting group which organizes the Tour de France, declined to comment on the scheduling of this year’s race, but Kazakhstani-based team Astana has questioned whether it should go ahead.”In my opinion, we can only continue with these big competitions if the whole crisis is resolved,” team manager and former pro cyclist Dmitriy Fofonov told CNN Sport.”And it should be resolved not only in France but around the world, as all the teams have athletes from all around the world.”Even without (the) public, we are traveling with many athletes and staff during the Tour. If just one of them is infected with the virus, everyone’s health at the Tour is at risk.”As team managers, we cannot take any risk. Sometimes you have to take a step backward before you can move forward again.”The NTT Pro Cycling team echoed that sentiment.”We will diligently follow the respective race organisers and the guidance of the UCI and will welcome the resumption of the racing calendar in due course upon their instruction; but of course our first priority lies with the global COVID-19 pandemic and standing in solidarity with those affected across the world.”

    Colombia’s Egan Bernal rides down the Champs Elysees alongside the Arc de Triomphe.Unlike other sports, the Tour does not rely on ticket sales to make it financially viable. But the sight of exuberant fans lining the roads of rural France is what makes it so unique.”It wouldn’t be the Tour without the fans,” 2018 champion Geraint Thomas told the Telegraph after the Paris-Nice race concluded without spectators.”Paris-Nice is Paris-Nice and the Tour is the Tour. It would be a lot harder to keep fans away from the Tour than it was at Paris-Nice.”READ: New dates for Olympic Games confirmed for 2021

    ‘Urgent battle’

    After starting in Nice, this year’s route crisscrosses France before concluding on Paris’ Champs Elysees on July 19. According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 45,000 cases of the coronavirus in France, with non-essential public places closed since March 14.

    Cyclists ride in the countryside during the third stage of last year’s Tour de France.Maracineanu said last week that it is “too soon” to comment on how the Tour might be impacted by the virus given the “urgent battle” the country is fighting. And teams agree that cycling should be a secondary concern right now.”If the situation is under control in a few months of course we would hope to compete, but only if the current conditions have improved significantly and it is safe to do so,” a spokesperson for UAE Team Emirates tells CNN Sport. “If the Tour is canceled it would be a blow for cycling but public health must come before sport in these times. We trust that if the race goes ahead under any format that it will be done because the relevant authorities have deemed it safe to do so.”

    Riding solo

    In the meantime, teams continue to prepare for the tour as best as possible with facilities closed and social isolation rules in place. “All our planning at the moment is towards the Tour de France going ahead as planned,” BORA-Hansgrohe team manager Ralph Denk told CNN Sport.”Even (though) fans are the soul of our sport, we would be fully motivated to race the Tour without (supporters in) attendance if this ensures safe racing for everybody.”At the moment all riders are at home training alone … Our coaches are in touch with them on a regular basis and as usual everybody gets individual training plans.”

    Fans cheer riders from the roadside between Albi and Toulouse during last year’s Tour.READ: In a world gripped by fear, marble racing proves welcome distractionFofonov’s Astana outfit, which, like a number of other teams, withdrew from races earlier this month amid the coronavirus, is in the same boat with riders training alone. “Some can still go outside, some need to stay inside at all times,” said Fofonov. “Like always they receive an individual training plan from our trainers and coaches. The only difference this time is that nobody knows when they will be racing again.”

      The Giro d’Italia has already been postponed after the Hungarian government announced it would not be able to host the opening stages in early May, while the Vuelta a Espana is still scheduled to take place from August 14 to September 6.

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoThe Tour de France is a huge event for spectators, who come out to cheer on cyclists moving at high speeds. Legendary war photographer Robert Capa captured the race in 1939.Hide Caption 1 of 11

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoEven though aspects of the equipment have changed — including synthetic fabrics and carbon-fiber bike frames that didn’t exist in the 1930s — the Tour still comes down to muscle and stamina.Hide Caption 2 of 11

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoA crowd gathers in front of a bicycle shop in Brittany. The Tour de France is less a single race than a series of races — some sprints, others lengthy trips through the countryside.Hide Caption 3 of 11

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoA radio announcer is seen as a team arrives at a stadium. These days, the race is carried live all over the world, including online streaming.Hide Caption 4 of 11

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoThough born Andre Friedmann in Budapest, Hungary, Capa lived in Paris in the 1930s, taking his new name there to cover his ethnic heritage. His Tour pictures aren’t just a look at a race. They’re also a look back in time to a different France, with neatly dressed schoolboys, working-class toilers and the occasional — and presumably unironic — beret. Hide Caption 5 of 11

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoNowadays, cyclists are on teams funded by major corporate sponsors. They have doctors, dietitians and other specialists on staff catering to their every need. The situation was a little more austere in the ’30s. Here, the cyclists stop for the day to rest, wash and clean up.Hide Caption 6 of 11

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoCapa’s war photography often focused on soldiers, with stark images of the D-Day landing or the ruddy faces of prisoners of war. But when he wasn’t at war, he could capture the quiet excitement of villagers, as with this picture of boys discussing the Tour de France.Hide Caption 7 of 11

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoPhotographers like Capa had to find ways to keep up with the Tour cyclists. A favored method was hitching a ride on a motorcycle. Here, Capa shows a press reporter and his motorcycle driver.Hide Caption 8 of 11

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoCyclists take a break to put on rain gear as a storm drenches the course. Capa had a particularly sharp eye for capturing quiet moments, even in the midst of chaos. “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough,” he once said. In 1947, Capa founded Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger and William Vandivert.Hide Caption 9 of 11

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoWhen the route was changed during the 1939 Tour, Capa was there to show the cyclists carrying their bikes over some brush — and to note the curious eyes of local residents. Hide Caption 10 of 11

      Photos: What the Tour de France looked like 80 years agoCapa often chronicled headline-making events, war being the obvious example. But sometimes timing put him in the crossfire. As a Jew, he left Berlin, where he lived in the early ’30s, after the rise of Nazism. During World War II, he was in Naples, Italy, when a series of time bombs went off, destroying the central post office. The Tour was a happier event. Here, he shows locals lining up to get news of the race.Hide Caption 11 of 11

      Last year Egan Bernal was crowned as the first Colombian to win the Tour de France and the youngest in more than a century.

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