Virus fears leave Porte, Tour field on edge
Aussie cyclist Richie Porte starts the Tour de France this weekend with his second child due mid-race and the host country struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic amid thousands of new cases every day.
The 35-year-old Tasmanian left his Monaco home this week ahead of the Tour starting in extraordinary circumstances in Nice on Saturday.
Teams will be sent home if two riders or staff show either serious symptoms or test positive to Covid-19 during the race.
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They will be living in a 'three-week bubble' which includes regular testing and health checks, wearing face masks before and after stages, restrictions on what they can do and where they can go and no interaction with fans whatsoever - even though punters will be allowed to line the roads as the peloton goes past.
Trek-Segafredo is taking co-leaders into this year's race with Porte at the helm alongside Bauke Mollema.
"Everyone is in the same boat, they say cycling needs the Tour to happen for the teams, it's obviously the race that generates the most revenue for the organiser and teams in terms of exposure," Porte said.
"But the pandemic is still there and they're taking very strict measures to get the race started, but how long it goes is anyone's guess.
"I can't see it being a straightforward Tour, already there's not meant to be as many fans and journalists and it's going to be a little bit strange."
Porte admitted to having some hesitation about the race going ahead but he feels he owes it to his team which supported him through the Covid-19 shutdown.
"Of course you don't want to be the organisation that kicks it (virus) off in another region, but we are all being careful, the race has bubbles and quite a lot of testing, but it's at the back of your mind for sure," he said.
"We're going places that are in red zones and the numbers of new infections are much higher than Australia, but the French Government say it's safe to race so there's not much we can do.
"Our team has been good, we were paid through the whole lockdown which was more than most teams and Trek were great with me in the run up with training camps and stuff, I had a lot of time at home, so they've been good and it's only reasonable to do the Tour.
"I've had seven tests since July, we've done training camps and when you're out and about on the street people are more careful with masks and stuff."
Complicating things for Porte this year is his wife, Gemma, is due with their second child on September 12.
"When the Tour de France released the dates normally it would have been absolutely perfect," Porte said.
"But we (wife and I) both made a decision that I'd do the Tour (when it was moved), we came to that conclusion and it's not an easy one and that's at the back of your mind whether you've got your priorities right but it is what it is and hopefully the little one can hang in there a bit longer and I might be able to get back in time to take them back from hospital."
Porte was second on the Mont Ventoux Challenge on August 6 and was 15th in the Criterium du Dauphine in the lead-up to the Tour.
"It was a shock to the system, I raced quite a lot in the run up to it and by the end of that block I'd done 13 days of racing in 17 and maybe overdid it a bit considering how hard the Dauphine was," he said.
"I'm not going to lie, I wouldn't say I'm going into this Tour fresher than normal, it's been flat out no matter which race it is it's always been pretty full on.
"It's Bauke (Mollema) and I as dual leaders and I'm fine with that."
Unfortunately for Aussie fans, Porte won't be at the Tour Down Under in January even if it goes ahead with an international field.
"We're definitely going to be doing a European winter which is fine, obviously my wife's family is in the UK and we would like to have gotten over there but even that's hard with the quarantines," he said.
"Further on this season I'd have like to have done worlds but Switzerland has cancelled that, and whether they can come up with a similar circuit is another story.
"It's a shame about Down Under, it's definitely going to feel a bit weird not doing it."
Originally published as Virus fears leave Porte, Tour field on edge