The 2020 Tour de France Starts Saturday, But Should It?

The 2020 Tour de France is set to get underway at long last on Saturday, August 29. For fans of cycling, that means we have just three more days to wait for the start of the sport’s biggest event. Delayed from its usual starting date in early July thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the race promises plenty of fireworks out on the road, with a number of clear-cut favorites, but also a lot of question marks too. But as the COVID crisis continues, the question remains as to whether or not this event should be taking place at all.

The Tour will kickoff in Nice this year with a 156 km (96 mile) state that includes rolling hills throughout its length. Typically, the race begins with some relatively flat and fast stages that are relatively slow to watch, but usually finish with a flurry as the sprinters in the peloton take center stage. That could still be the case on Saturday, but the hills will likely take some of the power from their legs, especially since many riders  haven’t raced and trained at their usual level so far this year. 

Over the following three weeks, the Tour will wind its way throughout France, with the entire course confined inside that country’s borders. Usually the route will wind into neighboring countries a time or two, but thanks to the pandemic that isn’t happening. Still, we’ll see some good climbing stages in both they Pyrenees and the Alps, which is typically were the race is won and lost. 

So who are the favorites heading into the 2020 edition of Le Tour? The odds on pick is Egan Bernal, who won the 2019 TdF at the ripe old age of 24.  Bernal did pull out of the Criterium du Dauphine with back pain, but that appears to be a blip on the radar. He is reportedly healthy, feeling strong, and ready to ride. If he is at full strength, he’ll be tough to unseat on his way to a second straight win. 

The peloton isn’t about to rollover and let Bernal ride away of course. His main rival will likely be Primoz Roglic, who also pulled out of the Criterium du Dauphine following a hard crash. He has reportedly recovered however and is looking to take home the Yellow Jersey. Other contenders include Adam Yates, Tom Dumoulin, and Nairobi Quintana, who is riding well at the moment but always seems to falter on the big stage. 

Because of the ongoing pandemic—and rising coronavirus numbers—in France, Tour organizers are going to great lengths to ensure the riders stay safe. Most will stay as isolated as they can while not in the peloton and teams that have two or more cyclists test positive will be dropped from the race. Additionally, crowds are to be kept to less than 5000 to try to contain the spread. That would be a far cry from typical Tours, which often see tens of thousands of people lining the roads on big mountain stages.

Exactly how those crowds will be kept to a minimum remains o be seen. After all, the TdF is the largest annual sporting event, in terms of number of spectators, in the world. With COVID-19 on the rise amongst 30 and 40 year olds in France, it seems a bit risky to be holding the event right now. Hopefully fans out on the road will maintain a safe distance and the riders will continue to be protected.

To be fair, the cycling season resumed a few weeks back, and for the most part the coronavirus hasn’t really been an issue. Should that continue, the Tour will offer a much needed jolt of sports viewing for fans, who have had little watch or follow over the past six months. But cycling has also always been about money and prestige over the health and safety of the athletes and this event may be no different. I’m taking a cautionary “wait and see” approach, as I want to watch as much as anyone else. Let’s just hope it doesn’t end in a disaster. 

We’ll start to know more come Saturday.