Riders at the Tour de France have appealed to fans lining the climbs to keep their masks on, as the French Grand Tour rumbles on below the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic and riders face a rest day coronavirus test that could see individuals or whole teams ejected from the race.
On Saturday’s stage eight in the Pyrenees, television pictures clearly picked up fans with their masks pulled down as riders tackled the Peyresourde.
“It’s definitely an issue,” said Sunweb’s Nicholas Roche. “I think the photographs say it all. I had mixed feelings when I saw the fans on the Peyresourde and started getting goosebumps with the adrenaline again. I was like, ‘ah this is the Tour’ and next thing straight away I was like, ‘no, this cannot be right’.”
To access the climbs, fans needed a bike and a mask, making it even more perplexing that spectators were wearing their masks under their chin as the peloton passed.
“They had it underneath their chin so they could shout but you can also shout with your mask on,” Roche continued. “Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to control…hopefully there will be more controls but I also feel sorry for the policemen who are fighting up there against all of that.”
Israel Start-Up Nation’s Dan Martin says that while the risk of catching coronavirus from a roadside fan isn’t massive, everyone who comes to watch the Tour has their part to play to make sure the race gets to Paris, not to mention the risk that spectators could pose to each other as coronavirus cases continue to tick back up in France.
“Obviously all the science says there’s not a massive risk as far as us catching it from a roadside fan and even within the peloton, but at the same time, is it really worth the risk?” Martin said.
“You can also understand it’s very difficult for ASO to enforce it, it’s almost impossible, you can’t go around every single person, it’s the story of this whole pandemic, it’s about every doing their little bit and we’ve just got to trust and ask the fans to play their part,” he continued. “Anybody that does wear their mask at the side of the road should feel like they’re doing their bit to get the race to Paris.”
As the riders ascended the Col du Marie Blanque on stage nine, a yellow string fence had been erected to keep fans off the road but Adam Yates said he felt the climbs were less rowdy than in a non-pandemic year.
“To be honest I wasn’t looking at the fans, I was looking at the wheel in front of me. I won’t go into it…but it’s quite common,” Yates said of seeing fans without masks at the side of the road, particularly on the climbs. “There are quite a few fans on the side of the road without masks on. It’s better than usual, though, there aren’t all the crazy fans on the side of the road.”
On the rest day following stage nine, riders and sports directors will undergo a coronavirus test, the rest of their team staff having had one on Sunday morning.
“If you’ve got it, you’ve got it,” Dan Martin said. “It’s not your fault and I think the biggest fear of everybody is the false positives. Obviously, if you’ve got it it’s for the greater good that you have to go home. You have to 100 per cent understand that. But if you don’t have it and you just had a false positive and then you go home that’s not fair. We’ve just got to hope we still have 22 teams with us on Tuesday.”
“It is something that is in the riders’ mind,” Roche added of the Monday test. “And it would be wrong if it wasn’t because everyone’s scared that the race won’t go on. It’s as simple as that.”