At 30, Geoffrey Bouchard was expecting a slightly different epilogue for his first Tour de France. But fate decided otherwise. And he said fate didn’t go too far, he pulled out a trite recipe from the past two years: the Covid-19. The AG2R-Citroën climber had to throw in the towel on Saturday morning, July 9, after testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. The day before, she had felt the first symptoms during the table stage of Belles-Filles (Haute-Saône).
A little later, another package put teams and riders aside, that of Norwegian Vegard Stake Laengen, teammate of the yellow jersey Tadej Pogacar. It is not enough for the Slovenian to lose his eternal smile, but he admits, however, that he is losing a beautiful rider, always present to put him back in the peloton. “He was very strong, in good condition, ready to roll on the plane, on the climbs, everywhere … It will be difficult without him, but I think we can do it with seven riders to Paris”assured the Slovene, 3e of an 8e stage gained by the other glutton of this Tour, the Belgian Wout van Aert, in the heights of Lausanne (Switzerland).
In his entourage, he makes no secret that the double defender fears a possible contamination (and a forced return to his Monegasque home) much more than a waste of time from one of his rivals, always reversible.
“When it’s not Tadej, it’s Wout”
The health situation – and its possible consequences – encouraged a very bleak Saturday between Dole (Jura) and Lausanne despite a favorable course on the role for the attackers. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) doubled the lead after a sprint with twenty-six runners, following their success in Calais on Tuesday.
The green t-shirt has overtaken Australian Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) and a Tadej Pogacar happy to pull off a four-second bonus on the fly. As Benjamin Thomas (Cofidis) sums it up: “When it’s not Tadej, it’s Wout. But with two weeks left, we hope they get tired of the big mountain stages and give us opportunities in the easier ones. »
On Saturday, Italian Mattia Cattaneo (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and British Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), for a time backed by Belgian Frederik Frison (Lotto-Soudal), also delivered a good number with a breakaway launched from the beginning. of the stage. Wright even pushed the resistance a little further, only to get caught in the first few meters of the Olympic Stadium hill, 3.5 miles from the finish.
Still, the platoon has always been in control, leaving them with little hope. Neither do the spectators. In short, the only two moments when a resemblance of horror crept through this hot Swiss day were the collective fall that occurred at kilometer 9, delaying many leaders in the general classification – including Tadej Pogacar – and that cost the Tour to American Kevin Vermaerke. (DSM).
And then there was the unusual moment, 47 kilometers from the finish, of which Thibaut Pinot will laugh one day, but not immediately. Wanting to grab his bag, the Frenchman received an involuntary blow from Trek-Segafredo’s assistant. Stunned, he ended up in the arms of a spectator, a little surprised but masked.
A return of the “bubble”?
We won’t lie, at forty-eight o’clock on the day of rest and therefore of the mandatory Covid-19 screening tests, the head was a little further away. The protocol of the International Cycling Union (UCI) may have been lightened and a positive result is no longer, in theory, synonymous with automatic exclusion from the event, the anxiety remains palpable.
Groupama-FDJ CEO Marc Madiot admits “not being a doctor”. But he knows how to observe: “I saw what happened at the Tour de Suisse. When the virus reaches the peloton, it spreads quickly.” In short, Mayenne continues: “We live in a storm that can break out at any time.” The situation generates some additional stress, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) acknowledges, though “On a Tour, in general, illnesses are part of the game.”
After two years marked by the pandemic, it was decided to learn to live with the virus. And this is where you notice the gap with the platoon. And opinions differ. Obviously difficult to get the public off the roadside, but is it necessary to return to a “bubble” system as was the case in the previous two editions?
For TotalEnergies manager Jean-René Bernaudeau, the answer is obvious. “We will take precautions with the PCR test every three days and the antigen test every day, and this morning I am forced to the starting village to go through the crowd. I don’t understand why we don’t protect this racing bubble anymore, this bubble is the future of this Tour.he says.
Guillaume Martin, as usual, is rather a philosopher. For the general population, the Covid-19 is now less severe than it used to be, the corridor develops. In these conditions it is difficult to go back. “We, the peloton, the Tour de France, are just a microcosm, compared to the macrocosm that is the public. There are two points of view that are logical and not obvious. »
In Lausanne, in the “submicrocosm” of fans, many of whom lived the Tour “under a bubble” in 2020 and 2021, a certain fatality is gaining ground. In the press room, this Tuesday, more than the feat of Wout and Tadej, the debate has focused on the possible closure of access to the team’s coaching area, a place of exchange with the runners and its management after the stages, where to wear mask. it is already mandatory.
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