Bastille Day, France’s independence celebrated July 14th, is a day when a French cyclist turns himself inside out to win this day’s stage in the Tour de France. But not this year. Due to you-know-what, it’s been postponed. How, and whether, it happens at all is a big question. Sites like Cycling News explain how testing, keeping team staff and riders away from fans, podium protocol to a minimum and so on will perhaps make it as safe as possible. But it’s up to the microscopic coronavirus and local health officials what happens. Let’ s hope Mother Nature and the government will, as the Cajuns in Lousiana say: Laissez les bons temps rouler.
I’ve been a fan of the epic bike race across France since the days of that Austin rider He Whose Name We Shall Not Speak, seeing how he was based here for many years. I went to his parade and drank the Kool-Aid that he wasn’t doping (even though a little voice in my head said it was too good to be true). But he was doping, big time, as well as being a ginormous asshole to many people, and got banned and sued, so I took a break. I came back to watching a few years after. It’s not about any one rider, after all.
More than once I’ve blogged about it (type the words “Tour de France” in the search bar to find my other posts). So it’s odd to be half-way through July and not see the sights and hear the sounds of the stunning French countryside, the rush of bikes, interviews with riders, no breathless announcing by Phil Liggett (or Paul Sherwen, who died a couple of years ago) and the rest of the NBC Sports Team, and not have the inspiration to get out there and ride my bike just a little bit faster and farther. It’s sad, but there’s hope it will happen.
With some strict protocols for testing, isolating, reducing contact, and a lot of luck, the race is currently scheduled for 45 days from now with the grand depart from Nice, France on August 29, ending September 20 — if all goes well. Last year’s final two stages were majorly reduced by incredible weather including flooding, hail and mud slides. In normal times the race is a spectacle, with all the fans, the caravan of sponsors and press, and the ride entourage itself. There are so many unpredictable scenarios that the whole thing could be cancelled. It’s too soon to tell, but at least Europe has allowed riders in to train, and the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be under much better control than in the Americas.
One thing that’s happening right now for both women’s and men’s professional teams is the virtual Tour on Zwift. The online competitive game where you ride your bike on a trainer connected by computer allows you to race people around the world. I’ve never used it, but many pros and plenty of riders as good as the pros and many amateurs and friends I follow on Strava do. While no substitute for the real thing, Zwift requires real skill in being able to ramp up one’s power to beat everyone else to the line. Austin resident Lawson Craddock — he of the broken scapula on day 1 of the 2018 Tour, whom I’ve met in person and is rumored to be on EF Education First’s roster for the 2020 Tour — took part and was finishing strong in the top 10 on Stage 4.
This year’s real race, should it happen, will have the unusual situation of three former Tour winners all on the same team. Brit via Kenya Chris Froome makes his return after his big crash just before the 2019 race. His faithful lieutenant Geraint Thomas won 2018 and he in turn came in second to upstart young Colombian Egan Bernal who won in 2019. Team Ineos (formerly Sky) has seven wins including Froomey’s four with Bradley Wiggins‘ rounding out the solo victories. Chris will be motivated to reach the rarefied air of a five-time winner, but adding to the intrigue, he’ll be moving to an Israeli team in 2021.
Assuming the race happens, it will look very different. The professional peloton has been germophobes for a long time, so in many ways, they are well-prepared for the additional layers of hassle and discomfort, if not outright pain and suffering. But bike riding is inherently risky. Let’s hope for the fireworks and unpredictability of 2019. Ineos was weak and so the winner was unclear until the penultimate day. But we should also wish for the safety and health of everyone involved.
As for me, I’ll be watching, but in the meantime, I’m getting on my bike out in the Texas heat every day. But it’s the lush lavender fields, scenes of sunflowers, majestic mountains of France that will be on my mind.
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