The Tour de Suisse set out from Ambri on Thursday for the fifth of its eight stages, but with 17 fewer riders in the the peloton than the day before, with a total of 27 riders now out of the race.
A combination of heat, crashes, and what's looking increasingly like a COVID-19 outbreak have combined to take a chunk out of the field, just over two weeks out from the Tour de France.
Seven of the 17 rider who failed to start stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse were from Jumbo-Visma, who pulled their entire squad from the race due to COVID-19 infection. Others soon followed for similar reasons.
The Dutch team did not indicate how many riders had tested positive, nor identify those concerned, simply stating that "corona has crept into the team" and explaining they were withdrawing en masse "in the interest of the health of the riders and staff and to protect the peloton and the race".
Race director Olivier Senn later suggested to Velo Pro Net that the team had four positive cases in their squad and so all the riders and staff left the race due to concerns about wider contagion at the Tour de Suisse.
Shortly afterwards Jumbo-Visma headed home, Ineos Grenadiers announced that Adam Yates, their leader for the Tour de Suisse and also the Tour de France, had also tested positive and was withdrawn from the race.
Human Powered Health also announced that the US national champion Joey Rosskopf had tested positive and was out of the race.
A further three COVID-19 cases then emerged at Team DSM. Soren Kragh Andersen, Casper Pedersen, and Cees Bol all failed to sign on for the stage and their team later confirmed they had returned positive lateral flow tests.
The team decided to keep the rest of their riders in the race after "consultation with the race organiser and the UCI" but said they would "monitor the situation and continue our protective efforts".
Team DSM also pulled John Degenkolb and Nils Eekhoff from the Belgium Tour on Wednesday due to COVID-19 positives.
There were five further non-starters on stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse.
Bahrain Victorious' Gino Made and Hermann Pernsteiner both game down with stomach problems and, as a result, "severe dehydration".
Yevgeny Fedorov is out due to an unnamed "sickness" according to his Astana' Qazaqstan team, while fatigue was cited by Trek-Segafredo in withdrawing Otto Vergaerde. Michael Gogl has also pulled out but Alpecin-Fenix have not yet indicated the reason.
The flood of abandons on Thursday morning follows a steadier trickle since the start of the race. A heatwave has hit Western Europe in recent days, causing Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) and Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix) to suffer so much they had to leave the race on stage 4.
"Despite maximal hydration and cooling on the bike, he couldn’t continue," said DSM of Arensman, while Alpecin-Fenix indicated a similar situation for Vine and stated: "It was no longer medically justified to have him continue the race."
Jan Maas (BikeExchange-Jayco) did not start stage 4 due to an unidentified sickness, while Kasper Asgreen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) and Frederik Wandahl) had to leave due to effects of heavy crashes the previous afternoon.
Davide Villella (Cofidis) and Kamil Malecki (Lotto Soudal) abounded on stage stage 3, with the latter crashing, while Dario Cataldo (Trek-Segafredo) and Leonardo Basso (Astana Qazaqstan) pulled out on stage 2, the latter with back pain. Ben King (HumanPowered Health) did not start the race due to a stomach bug.
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