By Jonny Long
The Tour de France will have male and female podium hosts for the first time at this year's race, as organisers also bring in numerous safety measures in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme recently announced steps that will be taken to protect both fans and the peloton, as well as shedding light on the fight to save the race in the spring as the coronavirus outbreak swept through Europe.
"We immediately agreed on the fact that we had to say as little as possible because we could not afford to be contradicted the next day by events that we did not control," Prudhomme told l'Équipe. "We could not go from postponement to postponement, the logistics of the Tour do not allow it. We only had one shot!"
In the days after Paris-Nice was cut short, Prudhomme and ASO's Pierre-Yves Thouault met with David Lappartient, the UCI President asking them if they were ready to postpone the Tour.
"We answered 'no!' together, like a cry from the heart, it seemed so impossible to implement," Prudhomme said. However, it soon became clear that postponement was inevitable.
When this year's French Grand Tour does get going on August 29, the original Grand Départ from Nice supposed to take place on June 27, congratulatory kisses will not occur on the podium, with podium girls replaced by both male and female podium hosts for the first time ever.
Hotels set to house riders also had to be contacted, although with many businesses closed this took longer than expected. Owners were relieved, despite the need to cancel the September reservations of regular patrons, needing to allocate each team with their own floor to avoid the risk of contamination.
While Nice retains its Grand Départ, other host towns found themselves without originally prized stage dates. Jean-Pierre Barbier, the president of the Isère region, had originally secured his area with the Bastille Day stage 16 now scheduled for September 15 instead of July 14.
"We must admit that we had dreamed a lot about this July 14, we could hardly do better, " Barbier said. "But I was reassured when Christian Prudhomme said very early on that the Tour could not be run behind closed doors. It was unimaginable. Even in September, we will make it the most beautiful party possible. Our economy needs it. People need it."
As for teams, they are grateful there are at least a handful of races in the month leading up to the Tour, allowing their riders to prepare. Arkéa-Samsic boss Emmanuel Hubert says his squad will be undertaking more training camps than usual, while Groupama-FDJ's Marc Madiot says it was out of the question that his riders would ride the Tour without any preparation at all.
"It will not be a normal Tour," was the understatement of the year provided by Cofidis' Cédric Vasseur.
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