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De Gendt: We are starting to feel unsafe at the Giro d'Italia

de gendt giro d'italia stage 5 Camigliatello Silano
Thomas De Gendt in the breakaway on stage 5 to Camigliatello Silano (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Lotto Soudal rider Thomas De Gendt has said that he's starting to feel "unsafe" at the Giro d'Italia amid the concerns of COVID-19 cases at the race, revealing before the start of stage 12 in Cesenatico that he and his teammates have discussed whether to continue in the race.

In contrast, stage 10 winner Peter Sagan insisted that he will race on, telling  Sporza: "We’re here to do the race and we’re staying here.

"It is like it is, the organisation has to know what to do. I’m not here to decide what to do."

De Gendt started Thursday's stage around the hills behind Cesenatico along with his seven teammates – among 144 riders left in the race – but revealed his distrust of race organisers RCS Sport, comparing the race situation negatively to the Tour de France bubble.

Jumbo-Visma, Michael Matthews and Mitchelton-Scott left the race on Tuesday after a spate of positive coronavirus tests, while news has emerged that 17 police motorbike escort officers at the Giro-E e-bike event which accompanies the main race tested positive on Monday and have gone into quarantine.

"I have to be honest: my head is not really in the race after the news of the 17 infected police officers," De Gendt said to Sporza in Cesenatico. 

"Things are going badly in this Giro. We have been discussing with the riders in the team for 20 minutes about whether or not to start because we are starting to feel unsafe.

"The police only accompanied the Giro-E? Yes, yes, yes, yes... That's the explanation they give."

After the positive tests amongst riders and staff in five teams, some have suggested the protective competition and team bubbles have been compromised.

Jumbo-Visma rider Jos Van Emden spoke of how his team was dining in the hotel at the start in Palermo with "four or maybe five teams… but the police and motos were there, the Shimano neutral service and normal people were all eating from the same buffet" adding that teams have been protected poorly at the race.

The UCI rules drawn up specifically for the COVID-19 pandemic state that the teams should sleep in separate wings of hotels and have "a reserved and independent dining room, whenever possible". A number of teams, including Bora-Hansgrohe, Ineos Grenadiers and UAE Team Emirates, have separate food and dining trucks at the Giro d’Italia, while other teams have accepted to eat in their hotels.

On Wednesday, a rider at the race told Cyclingnews that "there are no real bubbles" at the race, adding that "the only bubble we have around us is the one we have inside our masks" and questioning why some teams left after positive tests while others – with GC hopes such as Sunweb – could remain at the race.

RCS Sport has carried out hundreds of PCR swab and rapid tests, with the results of follow-up tests on the five teams expected before the weekend. Another round of PCR tests will be done around Monday's second rest day on all the riders, team staff and race staff in the competition bubble. 

De Gendt, meanwhile, said that he's heard riders coughing in the peloton, adding that he'd rather not continue in the race citing worries about infecting his family.

"There have been more than 10 cases and yesterday I heard several riders coughing. It's the cold season, but in the long run you can't concentrate anymore," he said.

"Some riders prefer not to start, others do. Everyone is free to do so. I'm one of the riders who would rather not start. Everyone chooses for themselves.

"If you stop, it's over. But you can continue until it's too late. Do I feel unsafe? It's going the wrong way. It's not so much for myself as for my family. I don't want to infect anyone – I'm concerned about that."

De Gendt added that he doesn't have faith in the organisation, comparing them negatively to how ASO ran the Tour de France. He said that the feeling is that RCS Sport are just trying to get the race to the finish, prioritising the financial obligations of the race over rider safety.

Ahead of stage 10, just after the news of the positive cases broke, race director Mauro Vegni told RAI that the aim was still to bring the race to its conclusion in Milan on October 25.

"We absolutely want the Giro d’Italia to make it to Milan," Vegni said. "I’d say at any price, excluding any major or medical problems. We knew holding the Giro in October was problematic, we’re doing all we can to make it to Milan with all the doubts and challenges."

Meanwhile, De Gendt is suspicious of any delay in a decision.  

"If you wait for your team, the organization or the government, it will be too late. At the moment I don't have the balls to say that I will not start, but that may soon be the case," he said.

"I thought it was much safer in the Tour. I never felt unsafe there at any point. But I have the feeling that the organization is hiding things and giving it a twist.

"There is a lot of money involved and for sponsors it is very important that we go to Milan. They are waiting for the government to make a decision and those decisions come too late."