Francois Mori / AP
Two races meant to be tune-up events for the Tour de France are instead raising concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on cycling’s biggest event, with dozens of riders forced to withdraw due to positive tests.
“It’s just crazy,” Welsh cyclist Geraint Thomas said on Friday during the Tour de Suisse. “I thought that was all behind us now.”
A mass exodus includes the sport’s top runners
Around 30 riders dropped out of the Tour de Suisse on Friday, including race leader Aleksandr Vlasov of the Bora-Hansgrohe team – who had just won Thursday’s stage. Several teams withdrew their entire teams.
The sudden exits were the talk of the bus ride to the start of Friday’s stage, Thomas said: “This rider is out; this rider is out; this team; the whole team; another whole team.”
“Despite all the precautions, corona has crept into the team again,” said Dutch team Jumbo-Visma, which withdrew on Thursday. said via Twitter.
As well as Vlasov, the starts include some of cycling’s best-known names, such as Adam Yates, Rui Costa, Marc Hirschi, Rigoberto Urán and Tom Pidcock.
The outbreak of cases is making teams nervous
“It’s a bloodbath!” said French media outlet Ouest France, as news of the positive tests spread.
“Everyone is nervous,” sporting director Philippe Mauduit of the Groupama-FDJ team told Ouest France. His team is keeping their fingers crossed, he said, adding that he now sees more people wearing masks.
Thomas said he would continue to participate in the Tour de Suisse, but it is uncertain whether the race will finish as planned: the organizers said they were “monitoring the development of the situation and will assess the situation again together on Saturday morning”.
The steep exits are another reminder that the pandemic is not over – and similar scenes play out on a smaller scale at the Tour of Slovenia, where defending Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar won Friday’s stage despite the loss of two teammates to positive coronavirus tests.
The Tour de France will start from Denmark this year
The 2022 Tour de France is set to start in Copenhagen on July 1, further expanding the footprint of a race that stretches from north to south of France on this year’s route.
At least one team official has called on French race organizers to reimpose a waterproof bubble and other COVID-19 protocols, according to Cycling Weekly.
France has reported the most COVID-19 cases in Europe, with more than 30 million. This month, transmission rates have increased across Europe, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, although the agency notes that death rates have continued to fall.