The Tour de France prepares to leave without fear of covid | sports


Tadej Pogacar, shortly before leaving to train in Brest.
Tadej Pogacar, shortly before leaving to train in Brest.ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP

The phone rings. “Ayuso is on the run,” reports the colleague, excited. Whoever receives the call is at that moment crossing Brittany on the way to Brest, where the sun flees from France, where the Tour begins on Saturday. Brittany is half swine, half maritime. The smells are mixed, the salt, the slurry, and the placards in the parks warning of the danger of the African swine fever epidemic and asking the population to throw away the organic garbage in tightly closed bags.

The road to Brest passes through Yffiniac, where the phone rings with the news of Ayuso, the 18-year-old WorldTour debutant rider who refuses not to stand out no matter what he runs (captured near the finish line, finished 17th in Genoa in a Tour of the Apennines won by the Belgian Ben Hermans), and it is not possible not to think that right there, in that town close to the Armorican coast, Bernard Hinault was born, more terrestrial than maritime animal, the Badger, one of the the great classics of the Tour. Five victories like Miguel Indurain, and his name comes up quickly because when the conversation ends the traveler is already on the coast, in Saint Brieuc, where it rains, as always, but not as much as on Saturday in July 1995, when he left his port. fishing the deluded prologue of the fifth Tour del Navarro. And it is inevitable to tie everything together, and to think that Brittany, pigs, oysters, is also cycling, and that a line of a thread that never cuts, unites everything in a strong darning, not in a basting of nothing.

The Tour recalls Induráin, who won the first of his five 30 years ago, and Luis Ocaña, an unfortunate character of tragedy 50 years ago, when a fall from Priego’s hard, and fragile, allowed Merckx to end the rebellion and restore his order , and forget the pandemic as France forgets it, where you go through the streets without a mask, and neither at airports nor at the border crossings of new deserts require negative PCR tests or vaccination against covid. To keep the forms, and the press well away from its precious cyclists, the race, however, requires tests to the accredited and also to the public who access the reserved areas of the departures and arrivals, last year totally closed. The accumulation of fans in the ditches will also be allowed, although the restrictions are maintained in 15 mountain passes, more for reasons of traffic safety on very narrow roads, than for fear of the virus. The hotels of the teams will, however, remain inaccessible, and face-to-face press conferences remain banned. The technique of sending encapsulated phrases of runners to journalists who request daily statements is imposed.

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In Brest there is also talk about the Tour that begins, with no less than four former winners among the 184 participants, Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, Geraint Thomas and Pogacar (only Egan Bernal is missing, who rests and prepares for the Vuelta) -; that the phenomenal Mathieu van der Poel is late for his debut, as he will not be able to meet his grandfather Raymond Poulidor, who died two years ago and has been a permanent fixture in all Tours for more than 50 years, first as a runner and then as an advertiser of the yellow jersey ; of the planned Slovenian duel, again, first against second of 2020, Tadej Pogacar against Primoz Roglic, and of the knives that fly in some teams, such as the Ineos de Thomas, the Welsh winner of 2018, who proclaims himself the sole leader of the team before the astonished gaze of Richard Carapaz, the winner of the Giro of 19, who has already had to abide by a massive presence of gregarious Anglo-Saxons with a lot of name – such as Tao Geoghegan, winner of the Giro of 20, or Richie Porte – to the detriment of the Ecuadorian’s trusted Latinos, like Andrey Amador. And Carapaz, in a low voice, says, “we’ll see.” Little is said about the Spanish. Of the inexhaustible Alejandro Valverde, capable, they say, of doing something, in the first two stages, ending on a steep slope, and of Enric Mas, who faces his third Tour and can no longer say that he is still learning. The fans demand.

There is also much talk about another historical, Alexander Vinokúrov, who had his Tour accreditation taken away when he had already packed his suitcases. The Kazakh man who convinced his president to sponsor Manolo Saiz’s team when Operation Puerto blew up Liberty, his sponsor, had run Astana for years. The arrival of a Canadian co-sponsor, Premier Tech, who does not like the old ways of Vinokúrov, has meant his ouster and his replacement of two older leaders still, the Italian Giuseppe Martinelli, who survives all the earthquakes, and the Canadian Steve Bauer. Three of the most outstanding riders in Astana are Basques, the rookie Alex Aranburu and the Spanish champions Ion Izagirre (time trial) and Omar Fraile.

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