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Pogacar crowned Tour de France winner after a delayed race under strict health conditions

Slovenian rookie Tadej Pogacar won the Tour de France on Sunday, riding triumphantly into Paris in the race leader's yellow jersey at just 21 years old.

Pogacar crowned Tour de France winner after a delayed race under strict health conditions
Photo: AFP

His victory marked the end of a tense Tour, held two months later than normal under strict health conditions with limited crowds.

Pogacar became the Tour's youngest champion since 1904 as Ireland's Sam Bennett won the 21st and final stage after the eight-lap dash around the iconic Champs-Elysees to clinch the green sprint points jersey.

The champion mounted the podium as the sun set behind the Arc de Triomphe to pick up the best climber's jersey, the white top young rider's prize and finally the Tour winner's famous yellow jersey.

“I can't find the words to thank everyone, but it's been amazing this three weeks where the fans cheered me all the way,” said Pogacar.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo stood alongside Slovenian President Borut Pahor while Pogacar unfurled his national flag and draped it over his shoulders.

Long-time race leader Primoz Roglic ended second while Australia's Richie Porte came third.

Pogacar's UAE Emirates team pocketed €623,930 thanks to his victory.

Dressed in green, Bennett lifted his bike aloft after the race, which provided his second stage win.

“It was so hard but it was all worth it, I still can't believe it,” said the big sprinter after edging seven-time winner Peter Sagan to the green jersey.

This storied edition of the century-old race packed with thrills and spills will be equally recalled for outsprinting the dark shadow of Covid-19.

Starting two months late due to the global pandemic, the race set off under strict health guidelines in Nice with doubts it would make it all the way to Paris.

French President Emmanuel Macron is credited with giving the green light for a rescheduled event heavy in virus protocols to go ahead.

But after 3,400km of intense racing the 146 remaining riders embarked Sunday for a parade of the winners until the hotly-disputed sprint in Paris.

The race was a triumph of organisation after receiving belated clearance to stage the event, although just 5,000 fans lined Sunday's finish due to the health protocol.

Race director Christian Prudhomme was left with a red face when he was sent home mid-race when he tested positive after the first week. Having shared a car with him during the race, French Prime Minister Jean Castex also had to be tested for the virus.

But Prudhomme will also take plaudits for this Tour and the colossal force of will it took to pull it all off without major incident.

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HEALTH

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

Experts have warned of a particularly bad flu epidemic this winter in France due to a combination of lowered immune systems and 'vaccine apathy' - urging high-risk groups to get their shot as soon as the flu vaccination campaign begins in October.

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

France’s annual flu vaccine campaign will officially get under way on October 18th this year – and medical experts have warned that this year’s season may be a bad one amid fears of “vaccine apathy”.

When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters in France this autumn

Immunologist Alain Fischer, who chaired France’s Conseil d’orientation de la stratégie vaccinale throughout the Covid-19 pandemic said that the high number of flu cases in Australia and the southern hemisphere in its winter were “a warning sign” that this winter’s flu, coupled with rising cases of Covid-19, could lead to a sharp rise in hospitalisations again in the winter.

“For two years, influenza has been kept at bay, thanks to the barrier measures we have put in place against Covid,” he told Le Parisien. 

“This year, it will be difficult to maintain the same level of protection: masks, distancing, intensive hand washing … Faced with this relaxation, there is a serious risk of flu epidemic.”

Between two million and six million people contract flu every winter in France. The infection is responsible for between 4,000 and 6,000 deaths every year, usually among people aged 65 and over. But in ‘bad’ flu years, that mortality figure can rise rapidly.

READ ALSO When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

The country, meanwhile, is at the start of what is being described as an “eighth wave” of Covid, and the Haute Autorité de santé recommends the eligible, vulnerable people ensure they are vaccinated against both viruses as early as possible. “A Covid-flu cohabitation is not a good thing,”  Fischer said. “It is synonymous with a very high number of hospitalisations. 

“Hence the objective of two strong vaccination campaigns – Covid and flu – especially for the most vulnerable.”

“The double injection is very good, and practical for patients. But I think that we should not wait, especially vulnerable people. It is a mistake to think that you will get your Covid booster when the flu vaccine is here – the Covid jab should not be delayed.”

Currently less than 40 percent of people eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine have received their latest dose.

Dual-strain Covid-19 vaccines designed to combat both delta and omicron variants will be available in France from October 3rd.

READ ALSO France approves new vaccines for Covid Omicron sub-variants

“It is quite possible to get your Covid injection in early October and flu vaccine in late October – you will need both anyway,” Fischer said.

The Haute Autorité de Santé recommends influenza vaccination for the following groups:

  • people aged 65 and over; 
  • people with chronic diseases; 
  • pregnant women;
  • people suffering from obesity (BMI equal to or greater than 40 kg/m 2 );
  • Infants under 6 months at risk of serious influenza;
  • Families and others close to immunocompromised people; 
  • home help workers caring for vulnerable individuals.

For anyone in these groups, the flu vaccine is 100 percent covered by health insurance and delivered free of charge to the pharmacy, on presentation of a voucher.

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