Tilting the 2020 Tour
Maintenant ou jamais—now or never—the headlines and social media blared in July, a few days before a Frenchman would win the Tour de France for the first time since 1985. Julian Alaphilippe was in the yellow jersey, Thibaut Pinot was on his heels, and Romain Bardet was finally climbing strongly.
Just a few days left: Now or never. But, as the AC/DC song warns, it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll. Alaphilippe was done in by the weather and high mountains, Pinot hurt a muscle in his left thigh and had to withdraw, and Bardet revived too late.
With no Frenchman even on the final podium, what else could the nation do but laugh through its tears. So the jokes began about how the Tour owners, the Amaury Sport Organization, planned to produce a French winner. So many jokes, all of them lame once the 2020 route was made public in Paris on Oct. 15.
No, Pinot will not be given a 20-minute head start on the peloton when the race sets off in Nice on June 27. Again no, Bardet will not be allowed to ride an electric bicycle. Finally no, Alaphilippe will not be exempt from doping controls.
Christian Prudhomme, the Tour’s supremo, made it clear beforehand that there would be absolutely, positively, definitely no favouritism of this sort shown to French riders. Maybe so and (“Wake up and smell the coffee, Mrs. Bueller”) maybe not.
How else to describe the 21-stage, 3,470-kilometer route with a scarcity of time trials, a French weakness. There will be none by teams and just one individually, 36 kilometres on a climb to La Planche des Belle Filles. By coincidence surely, the route passes through Pinot’s home village.
Although there will be many mountains along the way, 29 in all, with five finishes atop them, they seem suited to French riders: Few of these summits are among the Tour’s usual backbreakers, where rivals like Egan Bernal, the defending champion, Chris Froome, a four-time Tour winner, and the emerging Primoz Roglic usually shine.
Instead these stages are made for grinders like Pinot.
A few more facts from the presentation: nine stages favour sprinters, according to Prudhomme, 13 of the 21 will be no more than 170 kilometres long, the route will pass clockwise from Nice before heading back east to the Alps, and a couple of days will be spent on the windswept Atlantic coast.
The race will end in Paris on July 19, six days before the Olympic road race in Japan. It sets off June 27, a week earlier than usual to accommodate the Olympic race, a goal of many Tour riders.
This will be the second Tour start in Nice. The first was in 1981, when Bernard Hinault won the prologue and then the Tour itself. He’s the last Frenchman to do it.
Oh happy days! Back then nobody made jokes about head starts and electric bicycles to end a national agony.
Cover Photo: Chris Auld