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Doctors warn Van Aert against riding Paris-Roubaix after COVID-19 infection

Team Jumbo's Wout van Aert of Belgium (Front L0 and Team UAE Emirates' Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia (Rear C) ride in the ascent of Cipressa during the 113th Milan-San Remo one-day classic cycling race, on March 19, 2022 between Milan and San Remo, northern Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / POOL / AFP)
Wout van Aert in action at Milan-San Remo last month (Image credit: Photo by Marco Bertorello/Getty Images)

After Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst said that the chances of Wout van Aert racing at Paris-Roubaix should be zero following his COVID-19 infection, his Jumbo-Visma team has outlined the process for his possible return to racing, without confirming when he will race.

Van Aert announced last Friday that would miss the Tour of Flanders after testing positive for the virus on Thursday morning. The 27-year-old remained in isolation on Tuesday, per Belgium's 'code yellow' rules, with at least a week of isolation required following a positive test.

After Belgian pundit Michel Wuyts rated Van Aert's chances of racing Paris-Roubaix as "50-50", Van Ranst took to Twitter to say that there should be no question of him taking on the race on April 17.

"The chance of Roubaix should not be 50-50 but zero," he wrote. "After a Corona infection, the body (and thus the heart) should not be overloaded too quickly. Wout Van Aert will win Paris-Roubaix, but not this year. It's best for professional athletes to take a full recovery and then build up slowly."

Speaking to Het Laatste Nieuws, Jumbo-Visma directeur sportif said that the team will wait until Van Aert is no longer ill before evaluating next steps, which would include medical tests. Under the UCI COVID-19 protocol, riders have to complete a series of medical and physiological tests before they can race again.  

"The first step in the process is to wait until Wout is no longer sick," he said. "We can't say how many days that will take.

"We'll do some medical tests when he feels fit again. If those are good then comes the final step – we'll see if it makes sense, performance-wise, to race."

Tom Tueglinkx, a doctor who is part of the Belgian Federation's medical staff, said that Van Aert and Jumbo-Visma should be cautious about his return to action.

"We still know far from everything about the consequences of a COVID-19 infection," said Tueglinkx.

"Our guideline is that after an infection you stay on the sidelines for at least seven, preferably 10, days. That's the general rule, but the final decision lies with the team doctor. One advantage is that Wout only had mild symptoms.

"Take time to recover, screen how the first training goes, build up slowly, and only then resume competition. How long will that take? You have to look at each case individually. Dylan Teuns, for example, raced after a week, but felt a strange reaction in the lungs, so decided to take four further days off. Wise."

As well as Teuns, Tim Declercq has also suffered after-effects of a COVID-19 infection. The QuickStep-AlphaVinyl rider caught the virus at the Saudi Tour and was then forced to take a month off the bike after being diagnosed with pericarditis after struggling at the Volta ao Algarve.

"I tested positive [for COVID-19] slightly symptomatically – I didn't have a fever or anything like that," Declercq said last month. "So, I thought 'it can't do any harm, there is no great danger'. But it turns out you have to be more alert with it than with a normal cold, because the virus likes to 'attach' itself.

"I hear I'm not the only one in the peloton, that there are several riders who are going through more or less the same thing. In my opinion, it's a pity that they don't come out and break the 'taboo' because in essence there is nothing serious going on."

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