No Unvaccinated Riders in the Tour de France – For Now

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

The sports story of this young year has so far been the saga of the world’s number one tennis player Novak Djokovic and his attempt to defend his Australian Open title despite not being vaccinated against Covid, in contravention of Australian lockdown restrictions.

He failed but not before the prime ministers of both Serbia and Australia, as well as several Australian judges, became involved in a struggle that everyone lost: the prime ministers, Australian tennis officials and, of course, Djokovic who lost a chance to win his 21st Grand Slam and become the male tennis player with the most Grand Slam victories. And, unless he changes his mind and gets the jab, he will not be able to play in the French Open either because the French sports ministry announced earlier this month that there would be no exemptions from a new Vaccine Pass law that requires people to have vaccination certificates to enter public places such as restaurants, cafes and cinemas. This includes athletes as well as spectators.

The ministry cautioned that the Covid situation, and therefore the restrictions, may change before the French Open is played in May but, until further notice, no athletes will be allowed to participate in any sporting event unless they are vaccinated against Covid. This obviously also goes for the Tour de France, which is scheduled to start in Denmark on July 1.

More specifically, the French Vaccine Pass law requires that all athletes and spectators who use public buildings be vaccinated, so its impact on one-day races is unclear – though foreign cyclists will almost certainly not be allowed to participate unless they are able to find private accommodations. The French government declared that exceptions will not be made for athletes based outside France. The requirement, France’s health ministry said, “applies to everyone, to volunteers and to elite sportspeople, including those coming from abroad, until further notice.” Even if, as seems likely, France eases restrictions in time for the Tour, the Vaccine Pass law may disrupt the French week-long races used by cyclists to prepare for the Tour.

As a reminder of how vulnerable athletes are in this new wave spurred by the highly infectious omicron variant, the Jumbo-Visma team announced in mid-January that it had shut down its pre-season training camp in Spain following a Covid positive within the team bubble. Officials from the Dutch team said that one rider on the team had returned a positive test for the coronavirus and that this individual and other persons they came into contact with had been quarantined and everyone else had been sent home.

“The doomsday scenario has come true,” said Jumbo-Visma performance manager Mathieu Heijboer in a team statement. “This is a scenario that we have taken into account, of course. We had already decided how to act in such a situation, and we had taken all kinds of measures. Breaking up is the best option to prevent further spread.”

It is believed that Jumbo-Visma’s decision to shut its training camp is the first such move by a major team because of the omicron variant.