Back when we published our April Fool’s Day story about plans for the Tour de France to be held on Zwift due to the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when the UCI had suspended racing until 1 May, we did wonder whether our tongue-in-cheek prediction may become reality – and lo and behold, it has.
The world’s top male and female teams will battle out a Virtual Tour de France on Zwift over the next three weekends, while for the rest of us there are three opportunities to ride a Virtual Etape du Tour.
🤩 The first #TDFvirtual is on! 🤩
🚴♂️🚴♀️ In July, with the #TDFunited, the champions of 23 men teams and 16 women teams will compete on identical courses over 6⃣ stages with an entirely new French map designed by @GoZwift.
#TDF2020 #GoZwift pic.twitter.com/Hg7px0fhgp
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) June 29, 2020
For the pro races, the first two stages will be on Watopia (with some touches to reflect Grand Depart host city Nice), followed by four French courses including Mont Ventoux and as a finale the iconic Champs-Elysées stage in Paris.
The three-week Grand Tour had been due to start in Nice last Saturday, but due to COVID-19 and with the UCI having extended the suspension of racing until the end of next month, it will now get under way on 29 August.
Instead during July, riders including the last three men to win the yellow jersey – the Team Ineos trio of Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome plus some of the world’s top female riders such as Anna van der Breggen and Marianne Vos – will race six stages starting this weekend, with both the men’s and women’s races receiving equal broadcast coverage.
There will also be three versions of the Virtual Etape du Tour, one on each weekend, to allow all Zwifters to join in – the first on the Nice circuit, the second on one reflecting south-west France, and the third on Mont Ventoux.
Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France, said: “I cannot imagine the month of July without cycling.
“Thanks to the virtual Tour de France, which will be widely broadcast on TV, the champions and their fans will fill in the void left by the Tour de France, which will reunite with the public in Nice on 29 August. The Tour Virtuel puts technology to work for passion and the cause of cycling for everyone.”
ASO general manager Yann Le Moenner said: “Our joint project with cycling teams, Zwift, charities and broadcasters is all about leveraging the newest esport technologies to put the spotlight on the champions who were supposed to ride the Tour de France in July, as well as bringing bicycles to people who do not have any.”
All four jerseys will be awarded – yellow, green, polka-dot and white – in both events, with the general and young rider classifications assessed by points, not time, to determine team standings, and riders can be swapped out between stages.
Zwift CEO and co-founder Eric Min said: “There’s nothing bigger than the Tour de France in cycling, so to say I’m excited would be an understatement.
“Since I was a boy, I would always be glued in front of the TV for three weeks in July, so I feel incredibly privileged for Zwift to be able to play host to the first virtual edition this year.
“Of course, we all very much look forward to the race returning this August, but the good news is there will still be racing in July.
“The Virtual Tour de France will be a celebration of the event featuring the stars of the men’s and women’s pro pelotons, all in aid of five great causes.
“Let’s also not forget, there is a great chance to take part through the Virtual l’Etape du Tour de France rides as well!”
The 6 stages of the Virtual Tour de France:
Saturday 4th July, stage 1: Nice, 36.4 km (4 x 9.1 km, hilly stage)
Sunday 5th July, stage 2: Nice, 29.5 km (682 m of ascent, mountain stage)
Saturday 11th July, stage 3: North-East France, 48 km (flat stage)
Sunday 12th July, stage 4: South-West France, 45.8 km (2 x 22.9 km laps, hilly stage)
Saturday 18th July, stage 5: Mont Ventoux, 22.9 km (finish at Chalet-Reynard, mountain stage)
Sunday 19th July, stage 6: Paris Champs-Elysées, 42.8 km (6 laps of the circuit)
The 3 stages of the Virtual l’Étape du Tour de France (16 sessions spread over each weekend):
4th and 5th July, Stage 1: Nice, 29.5 km (682 m of ascent, mountain stage)
11th and 12th July, Stage 2: South-West France, 45.8 km (2 x 22.9 km laps, hilly stage)
18th and 19th July, Stage 3: Mont Ventoux, (22.9 km, finishing at the observatory)
Head here for more information on the Virtual Tour de France.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.