The rain clouds that poured over the Cote d’Azur turned the asphalt into a kind of ice rink. On a sloping section of the 156-kilometer first stage around Nice, the Colombian co-favorite of the Tour de France, Miguel Angel Lopez, whizzed through a curve with a blocked rear wheel. He was only stopped by a traffic sign and a bush growing behind it. Half an hour later, on the promenade of Nice, an even hotter podium candidate, the Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, slammed onto the slippery road and looked around with a gloomy look at bike and teammates. Pinot was still lucky. He was largely unharmed. The fall also occurred within the last three kilometers. Therefore, the same time as stage winner Alexander Kristoff was credited to him. Pinot and Lopez were able to continue.
However, John Degenkolb is eliminated. After a fall, the Thuringian tried to chase after the peloton with damaged knees. But it only arrived after the time limit had expired. “I was in severe pain, in both knees. After the long preparation, I didn’t want to drop out on the first day. Maybe that’s why I wanted too much. But it just didn’t work. Every time I stepped on the pedals I was in a lot of pain, «he said calmly, but of course also disappointed.
An interview with the former stage winner, a siege of his hotel by television teams – of course none of that happened this Saturday. The cyclists are sealed off. Only the supervisors are allowed in their hotels. Journalists form their own hygiene bubble. At least these bubbles are allowed to approach. The largest approach zone is the start and finish area. Narrow boxes have been erected there from barriers, in which a journalist or a camera team can sit. The arrangement is somewhat reminiscent of the start boxes in equestrian sport – with the difference, of course, that the horse and jockey are released at the start. At the Tour de France, a double grid barrier ensures that reporters cannot enter the competition area and that they keep at least one and a half meters away from the athletes. Selfie sticks are thus becoming an everyday work tool. And if you have forgotten it, you have to make a long arm to catch a few words.
But there are a few familiar things on this tour. A starting village has been set up, but only for a limited number of accredited people. There is also a fan park for 450 visitors. The highlight there is a black carpet that is equipped with sensors and counts the number of smartphones on it. The developer of the carpet, Pierre Iceta, assures you that you have an overview of the number of smartphone users at all times, and thus an idea of the total number of visitors to the area. The pandemic is also a driver of innovation for surveillance technology.
There is even an advertising caravan. It’s shorter than in previous years. Anyone driving on it wears masks – even if it is a good three meters from the platform on some trucks to the ground. But caution reigns on this Tour de France. With 7379 new infections the day before the tour started, caution is also appropriate.
However, there were readjustments to the exclusion rule. While the tour operator ASO and the UCI World Cycling Association stipulated in their first hygiene rules that every racing team must leave the tour with the second positive test, the following applies now: If two positive cases occur within seven days, the team must go home. In consultation with the health authorities, a B sample was also agreed. “You try to do a second test as soon as possible,” Ralph Denk, Bora-hansgrohe team leader, told the “nd”. This is to minimize the risk of false positive tests, some of which affected the Lotto-Soudal racing team in the run-up to the tour. The supervisors were then all tested negative.
However, it cannot be ruled out that entire racing teams will have to leave this Tour de France because of a false positive test. If there is not enough time for the retest before the next stage start, the driver or even the whole team is outside.