Don’t expect a normal Tour de France this year is the message from the UCI’s medical boss, who has urged caution as WorldTour racing gets underway in 2021.
The UAE Tour saw only one team withdraw (Alpecin-Fenix) due to a positive coronavirus test, while the one-day Omloop Het Nieuwsblad went off without a hitch.
It’s not business as usual, however, and Xavier Bigard, the Medical Director of cycling’s governing body, has warned fans that the 2021 Tour de France, as well as all other races this year, will be more reminiscent of their 2020 counterparts rather than the pre-pandemic 2019 editions.
“My answer is clear, no,” Bigard said, answering Jens Voigt’s question in the UCI safety seminar as to whether we can expect a normal French Grand Tour this year. “It’s absolutely not possible.
“We expect the new variants of the virus will spread in all countries in Europe, especially in France, but with some strict measures there is hope [vaccines] will break the spirit of the virus. We cannot expect a vaccination of the population before the end of the summer, and for the Tour de France – it’s only my opinion – but we cannot expect a normal Tour, not this year.”
As for the years ahead, Bigard warns the belief that Covid-19 may become endemic, like the flu, means a return to a ‘normal’ Tour, with roadsides packed with fans, may only come back with specific precautions in place.
“I am not sure that the next year this will be the case,” Bigard added of the 2022 Tour. “Because we have to now live with this virus, with specific protection, because with the latest mutation of the virus we cannot expect the same protection from the vaccine for proceeding years.
“We have to adapt the vaccines. It’s like for the flu, it’s absolutely similar, and I think next year we cannot return to a normal Tour, this is the case for all races and all sporting events.”
Vaccine scepticism in France is among the highest in Europe, with only 44 per cent of French respondents to a global survey saying they would like to receive a coronavirus vaccine, compared to 81 per cent in the UK and 70 per cent in the Netherlands.
As vaccine programmes begin to be rolled out across the world, however, fear of missing out is boosting the global acceptance of Covid jabs.
The number of people in France saying the would definitely not have the vaccine has decreased from above 40 per cent to the mid-thirties, while the number saying they would definitely receive a dose has gone up from below 20 per cent to 30 per cent.