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A Tour Like No Other: How The Pandemic Has Changed The 2020 Tour De France

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A very different Tour de France begins tomorrow in the French Riviera city of Nice. The world's most iconic cycling race was postponed by a month this summer because of the coronavirus. And NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports that's only one of the changes.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: This is what you won't see at the Tour de France this year - tightly packed crowds lining the roads to cheer and run alongside the riders. There'll be no autographs or selfies at the finish line and no ceremony with young women kissing the winner of the yellow jersey on the podium. It's going to be a tour like no other says cycling journalist Alasdair Fotheringham, who has covered more than 25 Tours.

ALASDAIR FOTHERINGHAM: Cycling has traditionally been one of the most fan accessible sports of any. It's one of the things it's prided itself on, that you can always get a selfie, a photograph. On this occasion, the fans are going to find that they are no longer allowed to go on the climbs, on the major climbs. There are limited access to starts and finishes.

BEARDSLEY: Moving the race from July to September when people are back at work and school will cut the crowds in half says tour director Christian Prudhomme. He says the whole operation has been scaled way back with fewer chase cars and a smaller publicity caravan. Prudhomme told French radio it's been a challenge to organize the race during the pandemic.

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CHRISTIAN PRUDHOMME: (Through interpreter) We have put in place very strict sanitary protocols. Masks are mandatory for everyone, of course. But the riders and teams will also be enclosed in a sort of bubble the entire time.

BEARDSLEY: Each team bubble will hold a maximum of 30 people, including riders, drivers, mechanics and doctors. They'll be regular COVID tests alongside the usual doping checks. And if two riders from the same team test positive for COVID-19, the team could be forced to withdraw.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Alejandro Valverde.

BEARDSLEY: This year's 176 masked riders were introduced in a stylized but scaled back and cordoned off ceremony last night in Nice, which itself lives in a high-risk red zone. Cedric Vasseur is leader of the Cofidis team. He says anything could happen over the next three weeks.

CEDRIC VASSEUR: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We'll be living in fear until we pass the finish line on the Champs-Elysees," he says. "These are not normal conditions." This year's tour will also be grueling with an exceptional 10 mountain stages, and the climbs start this weekend, says Fotheringham.

FOTHERINGHAM: Now, normally, you'd have a whole week for the riders to kind of settle in, check their legs are OK, you know, a bit of toing and froing, whatever bit of skirmishing. But now it's a battle royale from the get-go.

BEARDSLEY: Fotheringham says there's a power vacuum this year because British former champions Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas didn't get selected for their team. He says the rider to watch is last year's winner, Egan Bernal from Colombia. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.