Ineos' Bernal still recovering but ready for COVID-era Le Tour

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VIDEO SHOWS: THE TOUR DE FRANCE FAN ZONE IN NICE, NEWS CONFERENCE WITH TEAM INEOS GRENADIERS RIDER, EGAN BERNAL AND TEAM INEOS GRENADIERS TEAM PRINCIPAL, DAVE BRAILSFORD, RECENT FOOTAGE OF TEAM INEOS TRAINING, INTERVIEW WITH UCI PRESIDENT, DAVID LAPPARTIENT, SOUNDBITES WITH NICE RESIDENTS

SHOWS:

NICE, FRANCE (AUGUST 28, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

1. MANNEQUIN WEARING YELLOW TOUR DE FRANCE MASK

2. FANS LINING UP FOR OFFICIAL BOUTIQUE AT FAN ZONE

3. FANS WEARING MASK

4. PEOPLE ENTERING FAN ZONE

5. SIGN FOR TOUR DE FRANCE FAN ZONE

6. PEOPLE AT FAN ZONE

7. PEOPLE WEARING MASK LOOKING AT SIGN

UNKNOWN LOCATION (RECENT) (SUNSET & VINE - NEWS PURPOSES ONLY. NO RESALES) (MUTE)

8. WINNER OF THE 2019 TOUR DE FRANCE, EGAN BERNAL (BLUE-TINTED SUNGLASSES) TRAINING WITH TEAM INEOS GRENADIERS

NICE, FRANCE (AUGUST 28, 2020) (ASO HANDOUT - ACCESS ALL)

9. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) TOUR DE FRANCE CHAMPION, EGAN BERNAL, SAYING:

"With regard to my health I believe I am much better. The truth is that I still have some pain in my back but actually it's a lot better in comparison to the way I was in the Dauphine and I hope that I will fully recover."

UNKNOWN LOCATION (RECENT) (SUNSET & VINE - NEWS PURPOSES ONLY. NO RESALES) (MUTE)

10. VARIOUS OF TEAM INEOS GRENADIERS TRAINING IN THE MOUNTAINS

NICE, FRANCE (AUGUST 28, 2020) (ASO HANDOUT - ACCESS ALL)

11. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TOUR DE FRANCE CHAMPION, EGAN BERNAL, SAYING:

"I Still have a little bit of pain in the back to be honest. I mean, I'm much better than I was in the Dauphine. In Dauphine, it was really bad the pain but in these days I'm getting better, I'm feeling better and I hope to during the whole Tour try to still working hard in the back and trying to recover especially in the last week."

UNKNOWN LOCATION (RECENT) (SUNSET & VINE - NEWS PURPOSES ONLY. NO RESALES) (MUTE)

12. VARIOUS OF TEAM INEOS GRENADIERS TRAINING IN THE MOUNTAINS

NICE, FRANCE (AUGUST 28, 2020) (ASO HANDOUT - ACCESS ALL)

13. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TEAM INEOS GRENADIERS TEAM PRINCIPAL, DAVE BRAILSFORD, SAYING: (SOUNDBITE BEGINS ON MUTE SHOT OF INEOS RIDERS TRAINING)

"I think Egan is the out and out leader. He deserves the right to be the leader. He won last year. He's a brilliant rider. As we all know he's a great talent. He's mature beyond his years and we'll start the race very much with Egan as the outright leader of the team and support him fully in that."

NICE, FRANCE (AUGUST 28, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

14. PEOPLE WEARING MASK WALKING

15. UMBRELLAS

16. VARIOUS OF UNION CYCLISTE INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, DAVID LAPPARTIENT, DURING BRIEFING WITH JOURNALISTS

17. (SOUNDBITE) (French) UNION CYCLISTE INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, DAVID LAPPARTIENT, SAYING:

"If someone told us months ago during the lockdown that we'll be here today in Nice for the Grand Depart, we would have brushed it off right away. So naturally, it's complicated to organise all this, but I'm quite proud that collectively, along with public authorities and specifically Nice's mayor and the French government, along with organisers, the UCI, all the teams - everyone understood that we had to work together, and finally, we're at the start of the Tour de France, which is quite exceptional."

18. SIGN AT FAN ZONE, READING (French): "COVID-19 MEASURES - PROTECT YOURSELF, PROTECT OTHERS"

19. SIGN FOR COVID-19 MEASURES

20. PEOPLE AT EXIT

21. SIGN, READING (French): "MANDATORY MASK WEARING"

22. (SOUNDBITE) (French) UNION CYCLISTE INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, DAVID LAPPARTIENT, SAYING:

"A lot of things have been put in place, and what I'm seeing is that compared to other sports, there are few positive COVID-19 cases for us since, of course, it's strict. An example: the cyclists will not see their families before the arrival in Paris, meaning for four weeks. There's no choice, that's the way it is, and that's how it should be if we want to reach Paris."

23. SECURITY WALKING IN FAN ZONE

24. FAN ZONE WORKER DISTRIBUTING PARAPHERNALIA

25. SECURITY IN FAN ZONE

26. POLICE AT FAN ZONE

27. (SOUNDBITE) (French) UNION CYCLISTE INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, DAVID LAPPARTIENT, ASKED ABOUT TWO POSITIVE CASES AT TEAM LOTTO-SOUDAL, SAYING:

"It took place before the Tour de France. Tests were conducted ahead to make sure there are no positive cases, and these ones have been evacuated. The potential contact cases have also been evacuated. The rules will apply starting the start of the Tour de France, and this team will be monitored closely. Tests will be reinforced. If cases like this occur again among the cyclists in the following days, then they will be forced out of the Tour de France."

28. FOUNTAINS AT FAN ZONE

29. VARIOUS OF SECURIT AGENT WEARING MASK AT ENTRANCE CHECKS

30. VARIOUS OF PEOPLE AT FAN ZONE

31. (SOUNDBITE) (French) 33-YEAR-OLD NICE RESIDENT, CHRISTELLE DELMASO, SAYING:

"It's a shame because we won't be able to see them (cyclists) a lot considering the roads are quite blocked and everything will be closed off for the public not to come in numbers. So it's quite a shame not to be able to see the cyclists. We'll try to take advantage of the fan zone to see the activities and see if there are some nice things to do."

32. VARIOUS OF CHILDREN CYCLING AT FAN ZONE

33. WORKER WEARING MASK

34. (SOUNDBITE) (French) 42-YEAR-OLD NICE RESIDENT, RAFIK BELABBAS, SAYING:

"It's going to be complicated, the favourites aren't here, or at least the usual favourites in France - Geraint Thomas or (Chris) Froome. So, it's fair game. We'll see, may the best man win."

35. VARIOUS OF CHILDREN PLAYING AT FOUNTAIN

36. (SOUNDBITE) (French) NICE RESIDENT FROM RUSSIA, MARIA RAJON SIMONOVA, SAYING:

"It's always a pleasure, the Tour de France is always a pleasure for everyone. It's something mythical that will remain in history and in the future, I think it will continue, it will never end, just like any other French tradition."

JOURNALIST ASKING: "Even with COVID-19?"

"Even with COVID-19, I don't think so."

37. VARIOUS OF STATUE WEARING MASK THAT READS (French): "LET'S PROTECT OURSELVES"

38. STAGE SET UP FOR TOUR DE FRANCE START FESTIVITIES

39. TOUR DE FRANCE WORKER WEARING MASK ON STAGR

40. SCREEN

41. VARIOUS OF INSTALLATION WITH NICE NAME AND BICYCLE STATUES

42. PEOPLE ON STREET

43. VARIOUS OF TOUR DE FRANCE BANNERS ON LAMP POSTS

STORY: Egan Bernal is ready to defend his Tour de France title as the sole leader of the Ineos Grenadiers team despite nagging back pain.

The Colombian pulled out of the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month, citing back problems, but did not stop training.

"I still have a bit of back pain to be honest, but I'm much better than at the Dauhphine. I'm getting better and feeling better," Bernal told a news conference on Friday (August 28).

"I worked very hard on the back to try to recover in the last week."

Last year, Bernal started the Tour as co-leader with then defending champion Geraint Thomas.

Thomas and four-times champion Chris Froome were left out of the Tour squad this year because of a lack of form, with Giro d'Italia champion Richard Carapaz of Ecuador being called into the team.

Carapaz is an outstanding climber and proven grand tour rider, but he will be riding in support of the Colombian.

"Egan is the out-and-out leader, he deserves the right to be the leader, he won last year, he's a brilliant rider, and we all know that he's a great talent," team principal Dave Brailsford said.

"We'll start the race very much with Egan as the outright leader of the team and support him support him fully in that."

Whether the Tour de France will celebrate a winner this year though is anyone's guess as the world's greatest cycling race starts in Nice on Saturday amid fears of a 'second wave' of COVID-19.

New coronavirus cases have been rising at an alarming rate in France since the beginning of the month, casting a menacing shadow over the re-scheduled 107th edition of the race.

Coronavirus tests will be conducted in a mobile unit throughout the three-week race, which will go through southern, western and central France, the Pyrenees and the Alps and include eight mountain stages.

Riders will be tested six and three days before the Grand Depart in Nice. Any individuals who test positive along the race will be isolated while contacts between the teams and Tour followers -- media, fans and organisers -- will be strictly restricted.

Teams have been warned by organisers that they would have to drop out of the race should two of their members test positive or show strong symptoms of COVID-19.

Testing riders regularly has been an expensive exercise for the cycling outfits, with Groupama-FDJ doctor Jacky Maillot saying it has cost them 130,000 euros ($154,000) for the season.

Fans on the road could also be a danger if they do not abide by the protocols that have been put in place, although no rider scheduled to take part in the Tour has tested positive since racing resumed last month following a four-month suspension.

Spectators along the road will have to adhere to the two-metre social distancing rule and they will not be allowed anywhere near the team buses at the start of the stages.

The Aug. 12-16 Criterium du Dauphine, which served as a dress rehearsal for the Tour, was completed without a glitch but the scale will be much bigger on the 21-stage Tour de France which concludes in Paris on Sept. 20.

The race starts on Saturday (August 29) with a flat stage around Nice.

(Production: Ardee Napolitano, Tim Hart)

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