Paris (AFP)

A postponement of two months and a lot of sports questions: the Tour de France 2020, which was due to start on Saturday from Nice, has everything this year to divert its candidates, forced to change their habits in view of the most beautiful poster of the cycling season from the end of August.

The very high level expected:

Three and a half months is the period between the start, in France, of the deconfinement of the start of the Tour, scheduled for August 29 in Nice. "Largely sufficient," said Frédéric Grappe, the performance director of Groupama-FDJ. "With the good weather, with what the runners have already done before, there will be no problem."

The Slovenian championship, won Sunday by Primoz Roglic in front of Tadej Pogacar, gave a first indication. When the WorldTour resumed on August 1, during the Italian classic Strade Bianche, everything indicates that the peloton will already be operational. "The runners will always go as fast," even says Jérôme Pineau, the manager of the latest French team (BB Hotels) invited to the Tour. "They all cut at the same time, there will be a very high level."

The expected equity:

"If the season had resumed at the beginning of July, there would have been a double standard", estimated last month the president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), David Lappartient, with reference to the differences between the countries of the policies of containment facing to the pandemic. The long period leading to the first competitions cancels this risk.

On the other hand, voices (Bardet, Dumoulin, Pinot) have been heard on the absence for several weeks, even months, of unexpected doping controls. Worried? anti-doping bodies, starting with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), say that the fight has not stopped.

"We have other tools in the fight", insisted recently in the daily Ouest-France the AMA medical director, Olivier Nigli, citing the surveys and especially the biological passport: "We will be able to see very quickly if an athlete's blood parameters changed during the two-three month period of confinement. To believe that one could calmly dope while the controls had decreased, at the time of the biological passport, it was to be lulled by illusions ".

France to prepare:

In 2020, cycling fashion is resolutely French. Instead of the lunar flanks of the Teide volcano, in the Canaries, the two main armadas, Ineos (seven victories in the last eight editions) and its rival Jumbo, chose the Alps for their base camp. The first moved to Isola 2000 (Alpes-Maritimes), for a first internship. The second plans to put down their luggage in July and then in August in the Savoyard resort of Tignes. Each time, to benefit from the altitude and to carry out occasional reconnaissance of the route.

As a corollary, several of the stage races which will take place in France before the Tour are full. At the Route d'Occitanie (August 1 to 4, with Bernal, Bardet, Lopez, Barguil) and even more at the Tour de l'Ain (from August 7 to 9, with Bernal, Roglic, Dumoulin and Quintana, etc.). To say nothing of the Dauphiné (August 12 to 16) which acts as "PPO", a compulsory crossing point before the Tour. For the candidates for the podium, it is the only possibility of confronting in the high mountains within two weeks of the meeting in Nice where, for the moment, the sanitary instructions will impose a gauge limited to 5000 people.

A tour in reduced mode for the crowds? Outside the holiday period, "we can expect that there will probably be fewer people", recognizes the director of the Tour Christian Prudhomme, "but the party will be there". The president of the National Cycling League, Marc Madiot, confirms: "The audience for the Tour de France in July will necessarily be somewhat amputated." Resolutely optimistic, he adds: "We may have more of an audience of connoisseurs than holidaymakers. In any case, people who are not by the roadside will be watching their TVs at the stage arrivals."

© 2020 AFP