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Europeans surprised by permissive COVID guidelines for UCI Cyclo-cross Worlds

Mathieu van der Poel, winner of the elite men's UCI Cyclo-cross World Championship in Belgium in 2021, wears a mask to receive his gold medal
Mathieu van der Poel, winner of the elite men's UCI Cyclo-cross World Championship in Belgium in 2021, wears a mask to receive his gold medal (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The UCI announced extensive sanitary measures for the upcoming road season that will require riders to maintain a 'health pass' with proof of vaccination or negative PCR tests before most races but the situation is much different for its Cyclo-cross World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas next week.

Although international travellers must present a negative PCR test within 24 hours of travel, there are no rules requiring tests for domestic racers or staff. The UCI guidelines (opens in new tab) for the World Championships require only that attendees wear masks to cover the nose and the mouth – with an exception of course for when riders are training or racing – and that separation be provided between spectators and the team area as well as between accredited and non-accredited people.

There is no requirement for negative tests before arrival at the venue and no team 'bubbles' – just recommendations against taking 'selfies' with other people, 'minimising interpersonal contact during celebrations', social distancing of two metres (six feet), properly wearing a mask and slightly rolling down the windows while driving with others in a car for proper ventilation.

The World Championships are headed to a state where only 52 per cent of residents are vaccinated, where COVID-19 cases hit record highs this week and more people are hospitalised with the virus than ever before.

The UCI is leaving it up to the teams to monitor symptoms and mitigate their risks. Even the PCR tests required to fly back to Europe will cost up to $200 per test.

The Belgian federation has already lost one junior participant Ferre Urkens, who caught the virus from his family, and team doctor Kris Van Der Mieren told Het Laatste Nieuws the team will be in one big bubble before heading to the US, with staff and all riders performing self-tests twice and a PCR test within 24 hours of traveling on Sunday.

The team flies from Brussels to Chicago then on to Bentonville, just outside Fayetteville, arriving on Monday, at which point they'll be "divided into micro-bubbles".

"The idea is that they will mix with each other as little as possible. We will also continue to observe traditional hygiene measures," Van Der Mieren said.

"The team just want to get through the race virus-free and be able to return home. But we anticipate the possibility that one of us could become a high-risk contact or — worst case — even contract an infection, in which case must be quarantined on the spot and therefore be stuck in America for a little longer. A number of routes have been drawn up for this and solutions have been provided. Of course we hope not to have to use that."

Dutch National Coach Gerben de Knegt was shocked at how lax the requirements were. The team has 19 riders and seven staff traveling to the race, all vaccinated, and says they will continue to follow a regime of testing.

"We will continue to test ourselves to be able to immediately remove a positive person from the group," De Knegt said. "It remains a strange situation. I hear from people that hardly anyone wears a face mask there. So I'm quite concerned that someone there will contract an infection and then miss the race and not be allowed to fly home."

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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.