French prime minister Jean Castex was in the lead vehicle on stage 8 of the Tour de France on Saturday, witnessing the race's second French stage winner and the first signs of normalcy in the COVID-19 edition as big crowds lined the Col de Peyresourde en route to the finish in Loudenvielle.
Castex took a break from his own tour of France promoting the government's €120 billion "France Relance" plan to revive the country's economy and recover from the impacts of the pandemic to ride along with race director Christian Prudhomme and witness AG2R La Mondiale rider Nans Peter's stage victory.
Castex praised the Tour de France organisers for their security measures to protect riders and the public from the coronavirus, even as throngs of fans closed in on the riders – most wearing masks, but not all – atop the Col de Peyresourde.
"We are cautious, but life takes over, the Tour takes place, and the party continues," Castex said to France Télévisions. "I am really very happy with what I saw today."
France has recorded a new surge in coronavirus cases in the past weeks, with Castex saying before the start of the Tour de France that the virus was spreading freely for the first time since May. Twenty-one departments are in a red zone, recording more than 50 new cases per day per 100,000 people on average, although the Hautes-Pyrénées, where the stage finished today, is below that level.
"I was very impressed and really very touched that today in my presence it was a Frenchman who won. Vive la France," Castex said.
Riders are due to have their second batch of coronavirus PCR tests during Monday's rest day, leading to concerns that riders or teams could be put out of the race if more than one member becomes infected, and speculation that the peloton is racing as if the race might end at any moment.
The proximity of spectators concerned the Movistar team, who took to twitter to plead with fans to wear their masks and keep their distance.
As most of you, we're concerned by the current situation in the world. It's taken so much effort to restart the season - and we all don't want it to end. Please wear a mask, use it correctly, and keep some distance. Do it for us and the rest of the field. 🙏😷 #TDF2020 pic.twitter.com/wvnwynuzt3September 5, 2020
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.