The Tour de France behind closed doors is making slight progress: it has gone down to a very, very small level. Sunday, a few thousand spectators were therefore tolerated to see the French Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) win the second stage at the start and finish in Nice and wear the yellow jersey. The heart is still not there but the runners, organizers, followers, spectators finally breathe a little after a first stage on Saturday stuck on all sides, between health instructions which in fact prohibited public gatherings along the route and Falls on a wet road that sent around a hundred runners to the ground, including Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), injured in his knee.
Two million euros
It’s a Tour de France in village muddles. The town hall of Nice is furious with the Covid for having ransacked the two stages housed within it and for which it has spent more than two million euros. The yellow jersey of Julian Alaphilippe, the success on Saturday of the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (Team UAE-Emirates) did not satisfy the mayor (LR) Christian Estrosi. Spectators are angry with the organization for not giving them access to the course, on the grounds of the pandemic and a department of the Alpes-Maritimes classified since Thursday in the “red zone”. The organizers are annoyed in private by the sursecure fad of Nice, which had deployed “blackout panels” all around the peloton, and not simple barriers, preventing enthusiasts or the curious not only to approach, but to see. Christian Prudhomme, organizer of the event, calls to order in a small committee journalists whom he accuses of asking dangerous questions for the future of this Tour. “We can’t wait to leave Nice”, say the pundits of Amaury sport organization between them. The riders, finally, like the Dutchman Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma) are after the International Cycling Union, which according to them should have cut short the spectacle of the falls on Saturday. The whole Earth is torn apart over a party that likes to paint itself as a good child.
The race has barely begun when everyone is empty, on edge, angry, in search of the culprit. Never seen since 2006, when a favorite wagon was permanently dismissed even before leaving Strasbourg for alleged links with doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, the doping suspicion is now replaced by that of the Covid. The health “bubble” turns into a burlesque. On Saturday we saw an ASO dignitary conversing without a mask with two journalists without a mask either. A crowded VIP “village” while the public who wish to come for free is ordered not to come too close, much less to congregate. Christian Estrosi and Prince Albert of Monaco had climbed to the roof terrace of the “village”. Of course without a mask. And waving to a crowd that didn’t exist.
During the first stage of the Tour, on Saturday, around a hundred runners were victims of falls on soaked Nice roads, under the eyes of a small number of spectators. Photo Laurent Carré for Liberation
The inaugural stage no longer knows how to welcome its audience. Everyone then said to themselves that the Tour was a disaster, caught in the contradiction between a popular ball and a military maneuver field behind barbed wire. Tens of thousands of spectators were expected. But that was before the Covid. There are only 49 lucky ones allowed to land on the roadside. A removable stand awaits them about twenty meters from the line. The view is doubly magnificent. The Baie des Anges stretches out behind the dike of the TV channel trucks and, above all, there are the last few hundred meters of a spin-drying stage. The rest of the public is confined to McDonald’s. But the platform remains empty. “I do not know why”, said a woman from the organization in a green anorak. Then: “Nobody came.” A colleague pulls an explanation out of his sleeve: “People couldn’t find a way to enter.” Too many checkpoints, alleys, labyrinthine alleyways.
The French Riviera turns from blue to gray, tries to return to blue. The Sunday stage starts off against the Promenade des Anglais, a light that skims the water. Suddenly, the peloton goes up the banks of the Var, an almost dry river, bare pebbles, gray broths like stones and sand which feed the gravel pits. The veined cliffs of the first mountains approach without any attraction. The Tour then rolls on a four-lane, far from its bases, from the local roads, the commercial sheds replacing the postcard villages. The television and the spectators had chosen to lower the curtain like Thursday at the opening ceremony of these cycling Games. Nobody wanted to see the runners pass on this gray enclave north of Nice, languishing on a concrete wall or a crash barrier. The gestures were perfectly barriers.
And then the Tour breathed. Sunday at the Col de Turini, at the ninetieth kilometer of the second stage. Finally, normality. The July event which takes place in September this year is there almost as usual, sitting in those folding chairs by the side of the road; these bikes lying on the mossy walls, proof that cyclists come to cheer other cyclists. There are the white t-shirts with red polka dots from the retirees club, the Cochonou hats with a Vichy pattern from last year, or even the one from before, which cover heads. The light is soft, autumn approaching. Thick foliage shade the bitumen. The spectators remain very scattered but there is a kind of respite: the Tour de France remembers to itself its own images.
Contrary to the instructions of the prefect Bernard Gonzalez who had announced for the day a “traffic” prohibited in the passes, a rare and disturbing camera in the mountains, due to a pandemic. At Turini, the race takes a breath of air. And then at the start of a turn, consciousness ebbs back. A sheet painted in black: “Grannies and grandpas are here, protect us.”
Read alsoAlaphilippe, back in yellow
A consolation since the previous pass, the Colmiane, which had made people fear the void. Two kilometers from the summit, a hundred people, the maximum of this climb which is the minimum of what the mountain is entitled to expect. A kilometer away, caravans, of course, but barely ten. Holidaymakers were able to defy the ban because they live in hilltop villages and pass for residents. An organization car is driving, a scrolling message: “Respect barrier gestures”. The public answers masked, two hours before the passage of the runners, to have the right to be there and to receive very chick gifts of the caravan. The noise is an illusion. Getafix is this year of the convoy, a statue erected on a chariot in front of his cauldron of magic potion. In the middle of the trees, a bus stop is empty.
Pierre Carrey special envoys to Nice