Tour de France ‘will make it to Paris despite Covid’

Ineos chief Dave Brailsford said on the eve of the 2020 Tour de France that he was confident the race would make it to Paris despite gloom over Covid-19.

Tour de France 'will make it to Paris despite Covid'
Illustration photo: AFP

Brailsford's assessment comes a day after France put Nice, the start town for the 21-day jaunt around France on a Covid-19 red zone list and one of the competing teams Lotto reported the Tour caravan's first 'non-negative' PCR swab tests.

Brailsford heaped praise on ASO, the organisers of a race originally slated to start in June but which embarks from Nice on Saturday.

“ASO particularly deserve a lot of credit,” he told a conference with the reduced Tour press corps. “They have been terrific.”

“They have been working really hard. We have worked closely with them on this for months and they really have done everything possible to make it work.” he said.

Brailsford dismissed the suggestion that he would try and get one of his team into the leader's yellow jersey as soon as possible in case the race was abandoned.

“We don't know, nobody knows, but we have our strategy and it's based on three weeks, like every other Tour before,” he said.

“If there comes a point when it becomes too much of a risk for riders and teams, to society in general, then people need to take that on board as well,” he said.

“(The Tour) is important for sport and important for society, but equally we all need to be responsable in our approach,” said the 46-year-old Briton.

Brailsford said that prior to Covid-19 his team already operated a strategy he called 'zero days' aimed, in part, at reducing the possibility of riders catching an infectious illness.

“We haven't shook hands for years, even fist bumping. No TV controls nothing. Its amazing to what extent you can minimise risk if you change your behaviour,” he said.

Brailsford said his 2020 team had huge potential despite dropping Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas from the roster.

“You can never look back,” he said.

“Now, I'm very excited about this young team with an experienced support cast.”

Brailsford, who conceived the strategy for seven Tour de France wins, expressed total belief in his 23-year-old captain Colombia's Egan Bernal will successfully defend the title to pull on the winner's yellow jersey in three weeks time.

“Egan deserves the leadership. He's a brilliant rider, a huge talent,” he said of Bernal, who won in 2019 as the youngest man in the peloton.

“He's the sole leader and that is clear and simple.”

Much has been made of Ineos, bearing the name “Grenadiers” on their shirts, having a serious rival in the Dutch outfit Jumbo-Visma, but Brailsford said this missed the point.

“The Tour is contested between the great riders rather than the big teams, he said.

Bernal himself said he was ready to defend his title, and smiled when asked about his chief rival Slovenian Primoz Roglic.

“He was the strongest in the build up, we'll have to be careful with him,” he said.

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French government: All athletes must be vaccinated to compete in France

All athletes and sports professionals who wish to compete in France will have to be vaccinated against Covid-19, government sources told AFP on Monday.

Unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic
Unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic. Photo: Oscar del Polzo/AFP

The French parliament has just given the go-ahead for the health pass to be converted into a vaccine pass, which means that anyone wishing to enter leisure and cultural venues – including sports grounds and stadiums – will have to be vaccinated.

This goes for the crowd, but also professional sports players and staff. The government has indicated that exemptions will not be made athletes who are based outside France.

The ministry said a new vaccine pass, “applies to everyone, to volunteers and to elite sportspeople, including those coming from abroad, until further notice.”

READ ALSO What changes when France’s health pass becomes a vaccine pass

Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu said last week that certain events like the French Open could have a special exemption, when asked whether Novak Djokovic could play in the tournament, but this appears now to not be the case.

Questions had been asked about whether the unvaccinated Djokivic – recently deported from Australia – would be able to play in the French Open in May, but the ruling would affect all visiting sports professionals, including rugby teams from England, Ireland and Italy who are due to play in France during the Six Nations tournament in February and March.

Until now a health pass has been sufficient to enter sports grounds, which means unvaccinated players and fans were able to use a negative Covid test.

However once the vaccine pass enters into effect – scheduled to be later this week – only proof of vaccination will be affected.

French domestic sports teams were given the choice of either making sure that all their players and staff were fully vaccinated or playing behind closed doors.