Covid-Era Tour de France

The Tour de France began on August 29, 2020 with competitors from the bay area and new restrictions due to Covid-19.


Fiona Gmeiner and Will Hite

As an increasing number of sports in the United States are forced to adapt to numerous Covid restrictions and protocols in order to return safely, some of the focus of the athletics world has shifted to worldwide sports with foreign competitions that can take place with more normalcy. One of these competitions is the Tour de France, the most well-known and highly regarded event in the cycling community.

While the thrill of a race translates across all sports and countries, some of the specifics of the functionality of the tour and what it takes are lost on many non-cyclists, as well as in countries where bike racing is less common. Scot Wigert, physics and statistics teacher and Tour fan at our school, explained the stages of the competition.

According to Wigert, teams consist of about eight men and must be invited to the competition by the race organizers, the Amaury Sport Organisation. There are twenty-one segments and the competitors are judged on the cumulative hours the race took them, which Wigert said is typically around 40 hours. Of the 23 consecutive days that the competition is held, all but two are high-intensity race days, while the remainder are dedicated for rest and recovery. However, the cyclists still go out for long, slow rides on these days to keep up their body’s race mode and avoid injury.

The tour itself varies much more than the average viewer might anticipate. Wigert noted that some days are dedicated completely to “time trials,” which are typically flat, speed-oriented races over shorter distances, while other days are heavily mountainous and tactically difficult. Wigert shared his own riding experience on one of the Tour stages on his past trip to France:

“In 2016, I rode Mont Ventoux, which is a big mountain in southern France―it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, it’s always been in the Tour. It was a 14 mile climb, and it goes basically from zero to 6000 feet in one shot. It took me about two and a half hours to get to the top; but that same year, the Tour de France came through and finished at the top of that mountain, but after 130 miles” said Wigert.

Wigert went on to describe the character and composition of the athletes, something he has admired from many years as both a rider and a coach:

“They’re super dedicated because it’s a lifestyle. Like a lot of endurance sports, the people who are good at it give up many personal freedoms to stay fit and healthy. They also like to be outside because the races are always outside and often in the snow and the rain and the heat. They must be risk takers because it’s dangerous, they’re flying down hills at 40-50 miles an hour and if they slide out they crash,” said Wigert.

The teams who compete in the Tour de France all have these qualities including Education First, the American team whose riders include Neilson Powless and Sean Bennettt. Powless raced in the Tour this year, while Bennett is racing in the Giro d’Italia. Bennett’s brothers Owen Bennett and Richard Bennett go to our school. Owen Bennett described his feelings on knowing a competitor in the race:

“Watching someone I know do well in a world tour race was really cool,” Bennett said.

Both Bennett and Wigert noted that there wasn’t too much interference with the race due to Covid: Bennett said that one person in the tour catching the virus would cancel the whole race and give the win to the cyclist in the lead, while Wigert said that they reduced the number of extra people (cooks, massage therapists, and more) to lower exposure. Both explained that the crowds of fans were smaller with people wearing masks this year.

As for what’s next for the riders, each individual team will have to decide. Many teams are made up of 30 or more athletes, Wigert notes, and choose to divide their strength amongst all three of the Grand Tours: the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España. With the Giro d’Italia already underway and the Vuelta scheduled for late October, even the superstar-packed teams will be forced to organize their athletes into squads that effectively allow their athletes to recuperate, remain safe, and race competitively. This will no doubt be one of the many frustrating challenges to overcome in a pandemic era, but nevertheless a necessary one in allowing both the riders and the fans to do what they love.