140km to go: The gap is hovering around the two-minute mark as Michael Schar (CCC), Fabien Grellier (Total Direct Energie) and Cyril Gautier (B&B) head back in towards Nice city centre on the first of their three loops (two small, one big) they’ll complete this afternoon. Gautier’s B&B Hotels-VItal Concept team is one of two teams given wildcards for this year’s Tour. Nairo Quintana and Warren Barguil’s Arkea-Samsic team are the other.
“It’s always complicated to choose,” Prudhomme said when explaining his decision to Ouest France. “Last year, there wasn’t a lot in it. For this summer, I admit that we would have been in difficulty if Total Direct Energie hadn’t already been invited thanks to their UCI ranking last year. And if Israel Cycling hadn’t obtained their WorldTour licence.”
146km to go: The gasp between our breakaway trio and the bunch is now out to 1min 45sec.
An email: “A presenter on FR2 has announced a 40% chance of rain this afternoon,” writes Michael Cosgrove. “And Météo France is predicting storms and rain for the Nice area later on. If that happens things could get very hairy indeed and all bets will be off.”
The peloton doesn’t react: The bunch have let the three-man breakaway escape and the gap is already 1min 30sec.
The race is on: Christian Prudhomme gives the signal to the 176 riders to start racing and three of them immediately jump off the front of the bunch. Michael Schar (CCC), Fabien Grellier (Team Total Direct Energie) and Cyril Gautier (B&B Hotels–Vital Concept), take a bow.
Primoz Roglic speaks: Despite sporting bandages to protect injuries he sustained in a crash that ultimately forced him to abandon this year’s Dauphine, Jumbo-Visma rider Primoz Roglic is the hot favourite for this year’s Tour.
He spoke to France Televisions on the start line. “I’m very happy to just start the Tour after my crash at the Dauphiné,” said the Slovenian. “On the way, I’ll see how I go. We’ve waited for a long time for racing to resume this year. Luckily, we’ve had a few races before the Tour and we’re here at the start now. I don’t only watch Egan Bernal as my rival. There are a lot of riders and everyone can take his chance.”
Still in the neutral zone: The riders have another three kilometres before the flag drops to signal the start of racing in this year’s Tour de France. Tony Martin and breakaway supremo Thomas de Gent are currently chatting at the front of the bunch.
The roll-out is under way
Their face masks off, the cyclists in the peloton roll out from Nice with decidedly socially undistanced crowds of the public lining the streets as they. They’ll have to ride another seven or so kilometres before given the signal to begin racing by Christian Prudhomme.
An email: “The French government is saying that the chances of the tour not finishing are ‘very slim’,” writes Mark Schlink. “But there is still a chance it won’t finish.
“So, if it gets called in the middle, who wins? And if it is the person in yellow on the day, how does that affect tactics? If it means everyone is trying to get the yellow jersey early and then hold it, then we are in for an exciting tour- in a glass half full sort of way.”
Well, the fact of the matter is that the Tour organisers have been very vague about what will happen if the race has to be abandoned and have not specified how many stages have to be completed before they will consider declaring a winner.
On ITV, the former British rider Pete Kennaugh has said that unless the Tour finishes in Paris, no winner should be declared. I’m inclined to agree but don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that the Tour will get anywhere near the Champs-Élysées. I am absolutely astonished it’s starting at all and think the French government will call a halt to it sooner rather than later.
Britain’s Lizzie Deignan wins La Course thriller
Britain’s Lizzie Deignan edged a thrilling sprint finish along the Nice seafront to beat great rival Marianne Vos and win La Course by Le Tour de France this morning.
The hilly 96-km route around the Mediterranean city boiled down to a battle between a leading group of six, also featuring Dutch world champion Annemiek van Vleuten, Katarzyna Niewiadoma, Demi Vollering and Deignan’s Trek Segafredo team mate Lisa Longo Borghini.
As the sprint wound up in the final kilometre along Promenade des Anglais, it looked as though Vos, who out-sprinted Deignan for gold at the London Olympics in 2012, had nailed a second successive victory as she opened up a sizeable gap.
But Dutch great had gone too early and on the long final drag, Monaco-based Deignan dug deep and she surged past on the line. Vollering was third.
La Course by Le Tour, featuring the cream of women’s professional cycling, is the curtain-raiser for the Tour de France which starts later on Saturday in Nice.
The women are still without a multi-stage Tour de France of their own, although support is growing to start one possibly as early as 2022. (PA Sport)
French government introduces stricter Tour exclusion regulations
French health authorities have introduced stricter regulations for exclusions from the Tour in the event of coronavirus cases. They ruled that a team should be withdrawn if two or more of its members – including riders and support staff – tested positive within seven days, race organisers said on Saturday.
Until now this year’s race had been operating under International Cycling Union (UCI) guidelines which said teams should be excluded if two or more riders were to test positive over the same period.
Despite these tighter controls, the chances of the Tour de France not being completed because of the Covid-19 crisis are very slim, French sports minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on Saturday.
“On every subject, whether it’s the Tour or anything else we have to be able to adapt, to be able to make decisions depending on the situation,” Blanquer told reporters ahead of the first stage.
“That type of thing could happen but of course I hope that it won’t and I think that it won’t because the Tour organisers have done an extraordinary job. The chances [of the Tour not reaching Paris] are very slim.”
The number of daily cases in France has been rising steadily in recent weeks, casting a menacing shadow over the three-week event which is starting nine weeks later than originally scheduled. PA Sport
Race director Christian Prudhomme on Stage 1: “A rather unfamiliar format perfect for a great popular show: three loops in the hinterland of Nice including one to be covered twice giving the spectators an opportunity to see the pack go by all along the day before possibly witnessing the first act of the great battle between the sprinters. A bunched sprint is indeed expected at the end of the long final straight on the Promenade des Anglais.”
William Fotheringham’s team-by-team guide
Chris Froome will be a conspicuous absentee from this year’s Tour, as will his Ineos team-mate Geraint Thomas. With Mark Cavendish also sitting this year’s Tour out, amid speculation he may never get to add to his tally of 30 stage wins, Will Fotheringham gives the lowdown on who will be riding in this year’s Grand Boucle.
Stage One: Nice Moyen Pays to Nice (156km)
From Will Fotheringham’s stage-by-stage guide: “Two loops north of Nice over a serious-looking climb, the Côte de Rimiez, with a finish on the Promenade des Anglais; with 38km between the last bit of uphill and the finish. There is time for the peloton to regroup if it splits on the climb. This stage will favour sprinters who can climb a bit such as the Italian Elia Viviani.
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