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Five things to know about the 2021 Tour de France

For the second year in a row, the gruelling Tour de France has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic - from a change to the location of the Grand Départ, to the size of the crowds allowed to see the start and finish of each stage.

Five things to know about the 2021 Tour de France
Riders in the 2020 Tour de France. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat | AFP

Every year, the world’s top cyclists gather in France to race some 3,400 kilometres across hills and mountains in what is known as “the world’s most prestigious and most difficult bicycle race”.

The 108th edition of the famous race is 3,383km visits 31 départments and starts on Saturday.

1 It should have started in Copenhagen

The Covid-19 pandemic prompted race officials to keep the entire race – other than a brief stop in Andorra, on the Spanish border – in France this year. 

The relocated Grand Départ takes place in Brest, Brittany – and the départment is also host to the first four stages of the three-week race. It is the seventh time Brittany has hosted the start of the annual race, and the fourth time Brest has had the honour of the Grand Départ.

The Danish capital – which is hosting several matches in soccer’s delayed Euro 2020 tournament – will host the Grand Départ next year, all being well.

Here’s this year’s route

The Tour de France 2021 route. Image: Tour de France / ASO

2 It starts a week earlier than normal

The 2020 race was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, eventually getting under way in September.

This year’s event has been moved forward by a week. It was originally due to start on July 2nd, but will now begin on Saturday, June 26th, to ensure that it arrives in Paris by July 18th. 

The reason: to avoid conflicts with cycling events at the postponed Olympic Games, which are set to take place in Tokyo, Japan, on July 25th.

The stages and the distances involved. Image: Tour de France / ASO

3 A five-year first

There will be two individual time-trial stages in the 2021 edition of the Tour – the first time that has happened since 2017.

The time trials are between Changé and Laval Espace Mayenne (27 km) for stage five, and between Libourne and Saint-Émilion (31 km) on stage 20.

4 You’ll need a health pass

Organisers have said that anyone aged 11 or over who wants to watch the start and finish of each stage will have to present a pass sanitaire – with crowds at these points limited to between 1,500 and 4,000 people.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme also said masks were essential at these points – and recommended them to people who gather to watch the peloton as it passes.

Masked fans watch as Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic jersey crosses the finish line at the end of the 20th stage of last year’s107th edition of the Tour de France. Photo: Marco Bertorello | AFP

“All the provisions of last year will still exist, but obviously and fortunately with more people since compared to last September, the vaccination [programme] makes us more serene,” he told franceinfo.

“While it’s not yet a year for people to take selfies [with riders] or ask for autographs, the popular aspect of the Tour is essential.”

5 It’s mountainous

There are 27 mountain climbs, hills, or finishes at altitude in the 2021 race. 

After reaching the highest point of the race in Andorra on stage 15 (2,408m above sea level), riders face the double challenges of  Col du Portet (finishing at 2,215 m) and Tourmalet (2,115 m) on stages 16 and 17. And that’s after the brutal Mont Ventoux features on the 11th stage of the race.

Mont Ventoux. Photo: Sylvain Thomas | AFP

There were 29 mountain challenges last year, 27 in 2019 and 26 in 2018.

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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.

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