The show must go on… and the Tour de France, 2020 was a spectacular year. As many sporting events were cancelled following the global corona pandemic, the slightly delayed Tour de France was a welcome relief and also signalled a ‘pandemic conform’ format for sports. The podium shake-up in the second last stage was exciting and historical with Australian Trek Segafredo rider Richie Porte finishing in 3rd place in the general classifications and landing a podium spot on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
The 2020 Tour de France had a shaky start in Nice. Delayed, it meant that the rider preparation and training was completely out of sync and team selections likewise. Restricted travel meant there was a sever drop in spectators and broadcast teams outside of Europe (which arguably excludes the UK) were unable to attend and broadcast to their audiences at home. Strict regulations to protect the riders and teams from infections completely changed the interaction with media and fans… but it all worked out and viewer numbers skyrocketed.
With a nervous start on Stage 1 in Nice, a serious of crashes to batter and bruise the peloton further fueled doubt whether the Tour de France would even make it to Paris. Agreeable weather and continuing corona precautions worked in favour of the riders for the rest of the tour.
To the relief of many fans who were weary of Team Ineos (ex Team Sky) control of the peloton, this year they had virtually no role. This completely changed the dynamic of race with strong performances by Jumbo Visma who took this role (to protect their rider in yellow) – but the race also saw a host of young riders seeking stage victories and Irish sprinter Sam Bennet muscling out the competition as the man to beat to the finish line.
This year, Australia fielded only two riders, Caleb Ewen who took stage victories (stage 3 and 11) and Richie Porte who was a quiet achiever… staying in touch with the race leaders in the General Classification and even clawing back a 45″ time-gap following a puncture in stage 18 on a short gravel section with no mechanical support.
The second last stage with the individual time trial and difficult uphill finish will remain historical with the 21 year old Slovenian rider Tadej Pogačar with Team UAE clawing 50″ from the race leader (and fellow countryman) Primož Roglič of Team Jumbo Visma who was a ‘sure bet’ to wear the yellow jersey into Paris. Just As impressive was the individual time trial by Tasmanian Trek Segafredo rider Richie Porte who finished with the 3rd fastest time (0.57 milliseconds behind second-placed Tom Dumoulin) and advanced into 3rd place overall securing a place on the podium.
The crazy scenes with spectators lining the climbs were still visible in some stages and of course there were still idiots among them without masks or who sought to disrupt the riders with flags, selfie sticks or blocking the road. And even if swarms of spectators are part of the atmosphere – the reduced-format for 2020 with restricted numbers and most spectators showing the necessary respect shows that the Tour remains a world-class event.
For Australian fans, the team allegiance still takes a backset over nationality and the sprint and stage success for Caleb Ewen and podium placement for Richie Porte are fantastic sporting achievements.