Tour de France leader Tadej Pogačar has lost a second support rider to COVID-19 after UAE Team Emirates announced on Tuesday morning that New Zealand climber George Bennett had tested positive for the virus.
There were also unconfirmed reports that Rafal Majka, another key mountain support rider for Pogacar, had tested positive but with a low viral load. Cyclingnews has reached out to the team for a reaction regarding the Polish racer, a former Tour de France King of the Mountains winner and multiple stage winner.
Bennett is the second UAE Team Emirates Tour de France rider confirmed as testing positive for COVID-19 after allrounder Stake Vegard Laengen quit the race late last week. He is also the second rider to be a DNS on stage 10 for COVID-19 after TeamBikeExchange-Jayco announced that Luke Durbridge was out of the race on Tuesday.
In a brief statement to the press on Tuesday morning, UAE Team Emirates said that "Sadly our rider George Bennett tested positive for Covid-19 and will not continue today in the Tour de France."
"On Monday he was tested as per internal protocols of the team and returned a positive result. This was confirmed by a PCR test."
Adrian Rotunno, the team's medical director, added that "On Monday night George displayed some symptoms and per our protocol he was tested for Covid-19 and returned a positive result. Therefore he will not start today."
The loss of Bennett reduces the UAE Team Emirates squad to five support riders for Tour leader Pogačar as the race enters a crucial trio of Alpine stages and with nearly two weeks of racing left to go. As such, it is likely to be a significant blow to his climbing support.
As part of a UCI protocol to try and limit the effects of the pandemic, all the Tour de France riders were tested late on Sunday evening for COVID-19 and were given a clean bill of health.
Speaking on Monday afternoon, Pogacar told reporters that any racer with a significant viral load should go home, whoever they are.
"If you test positive, above the threshold of 33 points or whatever, that means you are really infectious and it's not really good for your teammates or for the staff to be around,” he argued. “The group is always in close contact with us, so I think it's best if you're positive you go home. It doesn't matter if you have the yellow jersey or not, it's not safe for others, it can affect everyone's health, especially when we race every day in such tough conditions. If you have the virus, it's not really healthy."
Speaking early this weekend, Rotunno had told Cyclingnews and other reporters that UAE Team Emirates had amplified their anti-COVID-19 measures and protocols already in place since 2020.
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