Stand-in Tour de France director Francois Lemarchand is convinced this year’s peloton will overcome all the obstacles presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and “go all the way” to its traditional Champs-Elysees conclusion in
Paris on September 20. Lemarchand made the assurance to AFP on Wednesday, just 24 hours after being catapulted into the Tour hot seat left temporarily vacant by his boss Christian Prudhomme who has had to leave the race and quarantine after a positive coronavirus test. The 59-year-old Lemarchand, a 10-time Tour de France veteran as a rider, seems the perfect fit as he has been in charge of Paris-Nice, the warm-up race for the Tour.
“We didn’t expect five or six months after we had to cut Paris-Nice short (by one day) to still be facing this thing,” Lemarchand told reporters at the Atlantic Coast racetrack where stage 11 set off on Wednesday.
“But face up to it we will,” he promised.
He said the astonishing crowds which had turned out along the Atlantic Coast roadsides on Tuesday on the run between the Islands of Oleron and Re were proof of how important the “Grande Boucle” was to the people of France.
“We’ll go all the way. We must go to the end, and there is no reason we can’t, if everyone respects the rules there are no worries,” he said.
There had been concern the rescheduled race would have to be cancelled due to the pandemic.There was also speculation it might have to be cut short due to the government-imposed protocol of excluding teams with two or more Covid-19 positives.
“Now we have overcome this first hurdle, I’m totally convinced we’ll get to Paris,” he said.
By that time Prudhomme should be back, as French authorities have reduced their quarantine to seven days.
“I’ll pass him back the baton next Monday with great pleasure, it’s his thing, he’s the one who got the show rolling.
“He plotted the original tour and then came all the way back through in July to see all the authorities again.
– Fans galore cheer on the Tour –
“We saw the stage we had yesterday (Tuesday). That was a popular outpouring of support. You’ve seen what a social event it is.”
“If we had raced in July we would not have had more people. It was massive, that’s my 26th Tour de France, and when you see crowds like that you realize just how huge the Tour is.
“That’s why we owe it to the public to go all the way through and do things properly, and we do things properly.”
French police told AFP the crowds on Tuesday were the kind of numbers usually expected in July. That would average at something like 500,000 per day on the roadside.
Lemarchand was described as the right man for the job by a former rider and teammate now working in the press-room on the Tour as correspondent for Cycling News.
“He’s a good, honest man who understands how the Tour works,” said Philippa York, who raced 11 Tours under former name Robert Millar before transitioning.
“(Tour organisers) ASO have been very clever about this, in case something happens to one of them the others are trained up to take over, so they have the procedure in place to cover this kind of incident,” she said.
“He (Lemarchand) has a good understanding of how these things work, and he should be okay here.”
There will be a second round of Covid-19 testing for the entire Tour entourage next Monday, when all being well Lemarchand will step aside for his boss to see the race through its final week.
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini