The 107th Tour de France will be an edition like no other.
Riders will sign on in face masks before much-reduced crowds, racing under the looming threat they might not make it to Paris at all in these unique times.
The Tour is, and long has been, hugely symbolic for France. The only years it has not taken place since its debut in 1903 came during the world wars.
It has otherwise rolled on through security threats, protests and much more besides in a manner intended to mirror the nation it represents.
⚠ So that the #TDF2020 goes smoothly, adopt good behaviours and respect the guidelines and rules throughout the entire race.
2⃣ m from the riders ⭕
0⃣ autograph ✍
2⃣ key actions: use hand sanitiser and wear a mask throughout the entire race 😷
0⃣ selfie 🤳 pic.twitter.com/aMtObvFC6i
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) August 26, 2020
It does so as a celebration of a sport that can come to its spectators, rather than the other way around.
Cycling’s greatest asset is that it uses the world’s most dramatic scenery as its stadium.
But in these times that is also its weakness. Creating anything resembling a biosecure bubble is impossible for this vast rolling circus.
And so when riders roll out of Nice on Saturday morning, Paris will rarely have felt so far away.
Under protocols issued by organisers ASO, the race will continue even if there is a positive test within the peloton.
But teams have been warned that two positive tests within their camp during the race would force their entire squad to be withdrawn and sent home.
What is not clear is at what point the continuation of the race itself would be in question.
D-3! We’ve been waiting for it impatiently and #TDF2020 is almost here!
3⃣ weeks of cycling 🚴♂️
3⃣4⃣8⃣4⃣ km of racing 🛣️
♾ billions of data points to analyse📊
Let’s get this cycling party started 🎉 pic.twitter.com/LluYQae8Jy
— letourdata (@letourdata) August 26, 2020
A fascinating battle for yellow should unfold, though not the one that was forecast.
When racing resumed, Team Ineos – which will race as the Ineos Grenadiers in France – was testing out a three-headed monster of Egan Bernal, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, all former winners.
Meanwhile, Jumbo-Visma was ready to counter with Primoz Roglic, Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk.
But then Ineos dropped the bombshell that Froome and Thomas would stay home due to a lack of form.
Then its Dutch rivals lost Kruijswijk to a shoulder injury, before Roglic suffered a heavy crash at the Criterium du Dauphine to leave questions over his fitness.
With no Froome and no Thomas, this is the first Tour in a decade without a British contender.
Instead the race is more likely to dance to the tune of the Colombian national anthem as Rigoberto Uran, Daniel Martinez, Sergio Higuita, Nairo Quintana and Miguel Angel Lopez queue up to challenge defending champion Bernal.
Thibaut Pinot will carry the weight of French hopes, 35 years after Bernard Hinault was the last home winner.