Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief on Sunday, telling the French media that "just getting to Paris was a victory" in the face of the COVID-19 crisis that still continues in France, much of Europe and across the globe. Along the way, Prudhomme tested positive for the coronavirus, but was able to return to the race in the final week and be there when it arrived in Paris to crown UAE Team Emirates' Tadej Pogačar as this year's winner.
"Every year, journalists ask me if I'm relieved at the end of the Tour, and this year, I answered, 'Yes.' Just getting to Paris was a victory," Prudhomme told French radio station Sud Radio on Sunday.
"In the hours leading up to the start of the race in Nice, we were afraid, knowing that two positive COVID-19 cases [for riders] would lead to the exclusion of a team," he admitted. "Now, I can see that that's what allowed us to get to the end: the teams tightened the screw even more. They did the job. The measures that needed to be taken so that we could have a race, so that we could all work, became clear to everyone."
Prudhomme said that every question he took from the media ahead of the Tour was about how the coronavirus might affect the race, but once it got under way, it began to feel increasingly like business as usual, albeit with the extra safety measures in place and the bulk of the race taking part in September rather than July.
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"On that first Saturday, we had the rain, the road that was like an ice rink, the ice storm… And then the next day, we had Julian Alaphilippe's stage victory, the yellow jersey, the resplendent sun, the beauty of the landscape, the public on the roadside, 90-95 per cent of whom were wearing masks," he said. "Of course, with it being September, there were fewer people than if it had been July, but I was struck by the response from the roadside: the decorated villages, the public…"
Prudhomme pointed to 'intermediate' stages – those that were neither flat not mountainous, such as stage 7 to Lavaur, stage 14 to Lyon and stage 19 to Champagnole – as having been particularly enjoyable for him.
"Thanks to Peter Sagan, Sam Bennett and their teams [Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-QuickStep], this year's fight for the green jersey has been the best for I don't know how long," he said. "What is certain is that we need to reduce the mileages on the flatter stages. When they're so long, the stage finales become too tough."
Asked to rate this year's Tour against other recent editions, Prudhomme maintained that the 2019 edition – during which the home French riders, in particular, excelled – was a race apart, despite the excitement of the final time trial at the 2020 Tour.
"I'm not going to put it at the same level as last year, which was so exciting with the outstanding performances from the French riders," he said. "For a moment in Nice this year, we dreamed about what might happen, but all the crashes on the opening stage played a huge role.
"Even though he carried on in the race, Thibaut Pinot fell away from the battle for the GC, like Romain Bardet and Nairo Quintana, and then Egan Bernal was the biggest surprise," Prudhomme said of the 2019 Tour champion. "I never expected him to drop out of contention."