When Alexander Kristoff walked off his team bus at the start of stage two, resplendent in striking yellow shorts, it felt like everything was back to normal.
Gone were the discussions of global pandemics and road safety, having been treated to Tony Martin’s best Christ the Redeemer impression and Miguel Ángel López’s slapstick, Wile E. Coyote-esque crash into a road sign.
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The Tour de France was back and as ridiculous as ever. Before long, cycling had even returned to what it does best – inane contemplation on the colour of a rider’s shorts.
They nearly never saw the light of day, however, as the bulky Norwegian ripped the first pair he tried on.
The eye of the storm during the opening weekend in Nice had centred in the vacant Place Massena, a grand town square just above the narrow streets that then dip down into the Old Town, where you forget there’s even a Tour de France going on nearby.
Having set their alarms early, some of the women riding La Course were up on stage before 9am, Lotto-Soudal’s Abby-Mae Parkinson determined to make the most of the experience by still waving when her name was called out. The necessary absence of fans was the only apparent transgression in the otherwise upwards trajectory for women’s cycling, which is, of course, the only thing we’re allowed to talk about when it comes to the female side of the sport.
In her post-race press conference, winner Lizzie Deignan spoke about her anticipation for both the first-ever women’s Paris-Roubaix later this year as well as a female Tour de France in 2022. While last year’s audience to hear Marianne Vos talk about her win went viral, attendance was up by 300 per cent this year, to a total of three journalists!
Should we really expect more when 20-odd pages were dedicated to the men’s three-week stage race in the edition of L’Equipe prior to stage one, while the female peloton received a paragraph tucked at the bottom towards the back?
It’s been a fight to get those pages filled, though. Mikel Landa’s pre-Tour press conference began with an emotional plea from a Spanish journalist for the Bahrain-McLaren rider to please stop and talk to them before and after the stages, the press locked away into pens and not free to roam and hassle the team buses this year.
For those watching on television, much remained the same, the buenas vistas endured. Now working on the French coverage, Thomas Voeckler could be spotted on a jog the morning before the first flag drop, a reminder of the mentality separating you from being one of the madmen who actually ride the thing.
Others were less keen to use their feet after months sat at home with nothing to do. The latest innovation amongst team staff is to accompany their riders to the sign-on by electric scooter, whizzing along behind, lanyards flapping in the wind.
Oddly, Ineos are one squad yet to take up this latest marginal gain, instead continuing to march to the beat of the Brailsford drum. Their Frussian wonderkid, Pavel Sivakov, was one of a number who succumbed to gravity on the oily roads rinsed clean by the rain. He soldiered on to the finish and is now hovering around the lanterne rouge position, clinging on, else he is lined up outside the team bus by the Grenadiers and put out of his misery.
Now, whisper it quietly, but it looks like we may be out of the woods in terms of premature cancellation. Stage three sees the Tour escape the red zone of Nice and into far less populous localities. The next proper city the peloton will visit is Lyon, until stage 14.
With the riders already battered and blowing after hectic stage one, stage two was somewhat of a damp squib, and a flat day on stage three promises much the same. Is that such a bad thing, in this of all years? Maybe, for now, if the most interesting talking point is the colour of Alexander Kristoff’s shorts, that’s no bad thing.
He’s now handed over yellow to who else but Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman getting his hands once again on the leader’s jersey restores some normality to the proceedings. Let’s see Deceuninck – Quick-Step get chucked out of the race for two coronavirus positives now.