Mix of calm and concern as cycling’s Tour heads into riot-hit France

By Julien Pretot

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (Reuters) – While the vast majority of the Tour de France peloton is not concerned by the riots that have been hitting the country following the fatal shooting of a teenager by police, some have expressed concerns that the race might be disrupted.

After a start in Bilbao, Spain, the Tour heads to France on Monday with visits to Bayonne, Dax, Pau and Bordeaux during the week.

Rioting across France appeared to be less intense on Saturday, but tens of thousands of police have been deployed in cities across the country after the funeral of a teenager of North African descent, whose shooting by police sparked nationwide unrest.

Foreign team members have confessed not knowing much about the situation in France, arguing they are in a ‘bubble’ on the Tour de France.

Some 33,000 law enforcement officers are deployed throughout the three-week race, but team buses and thousand of euros in material are being guarded by a sole private security officer overnight.

A senior source with direct knowledge of the matter said that none of the officers would be pulled out of the race to be redeployed across the country for anti-rioting duty.

Tour de France organisers say they are ready to adjust to any situation.

“We are in constant liaison with the State services and we are following the situation and how it has been evolving,” Prudhomme told reporters on Friday.

“I don’t really have any comment on it, that’s one for the authorities who are working very hard,” Rod Ellingworth, the racing director of the Ineos-Grenadiers team, told Reuters.

In French teams or for French riders, however, the tone is slightly different.

“Obviously we’re concerned, we can’t be insensitive to what’s been happening but there’s not much we can do. We wait for information from organisers, from law enforcement and we will do what they tell us to do,” Groupama FDJ sports director Philippe Mauduit told Reuters.

“The organisers did not even mention it at the team meeting (before the start of the race). It’s radio silence from them. I don’t know why. Maybe they don’t have a solution themselves or any information. We’ll adapt.”

Riders have been focused on their race, but they have been following the latest developments.

“The context is different than usual. Every morning I check the news to see what happened overnight,” said Intermarche-Wanty Gobert rider Adrien Petit.

“I hope that when we arrive in the big cities, nothing serious will happen. Let’s see how it evolves,” said Aurelien Paret Peintre of the AG2R-Citroen team.

Last year the Tour was hit by climate activists, who twice stopped the race, triggering extra security measures on the road this year with two motorbikes from the gendarmerie’s intervention brigade riding in front of the peloton to prevent any protest.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)