On a sunny day in Roeselare, there were clouds of doubt hanging over Bora-Hansgrohe because of a COVID-19 positive in the team, with riders waiting until just hours before the start of Dwars door Vlaanderen to be cleared to race. The team made the most of being finally given the green light by finishing with two riders in the main chasing group behind solo winner Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers), Marcus Burghardt and Nils Politt.
Politt was in the first chase group until they were caught in the run-in to the finish, a remarkable result considering the team have been confined to their hotel and riding only on rollers for most of the week.
"I have to say that the first race after our quarantine was actually harder than we thought it would be,” Politt said after the race. “However, the team was always in a good position at the key points in the race. I attempted to get a good gap on the Taaienberg, but unfortunately the cooperation within the group was not quite there, and then on the penultimate ascent I missed the group in front.
“Perhaps it's because I invested a bit too much before, but in the end, I rode a solid race and I think I'm now able head towards the Tour of Flanders on Sunday with a positive outlook."
The German WorldTour team was stopped on Friday, March 26, from participating in the E3 Saxo Bank Classic as a result of a positive COVID-19 pre-race test by rider Matthew Walls. Then two days later, the team were prepared to start at Gent-Wevelgem as remaining riders and staff had returned negative PCR tests. However, race organisers turned them away from the start, citing they were ‘high-risk contacts’ as defined by strict coronavirus restrictions in Belgium.
"This has been a difficult situation not only for us, but also for several others who have been involved. We are aware that health, whether of individual athletes or in society at large, must always come first. Nevertheless, professionals should be able to practice their profession unless there is an understandable reason to prohibit it,” said Ralph Denk, team manager, in a team statement early Wednesday.
“Matthew Walls and the two first category contacts of course remain in quarantine. All other riders and staff have tested negative (PCR) several times since Saturday and were officially released from quarantine today. I would like to thank all the authorities, Flanders Classics (Thomas Van den Spiegel), Belgian Cycling, the Covid coordinator Dr. Hans Bekkers and Vice President Ben Weyts, the person responsible for sport in Flanders, for their help. The effort that everyone has shown for the good of our sport cannot be taken for granted."
The third attempt to start a race in the past week seemed to be the charm at the mid-week Classic across the Flemish Ardennes, but not without a lot of stress.
Politt took the reins in a chase group with 50 kilometres and, after his group was caught 15 km from the finish, the German tried again to launch an attack, but ultimately settled for 38th place in Waregem in the middle of the main bunch with teammate Marcus Burghardt crossed the line in 33rd position.
The next Bora-Hansgrohe riders to finish were more than eight minutes back, including sprinter Pascal Ackermann, who had a mechanical during the race and finished 102nd.
"It was a stressful week and we only got the green light to start at the last moment. Today we rode almost 100 km full throttle and we were at a bit of a disadvantage because our guys were sitting in the hotel for six days and could only train on the rollers,” Sports Director Jean-Pierre Heynderickx said in a team statement after the race.
“We were also a bit unlucky, because Pascal had a mechanical and tried to catch up again, but that ended up costing him a lot of energy. We then had Nils, Daniel and Marcus in front and we were trying to fight for a top-10 finish, but in the end, it didn't quite work out. Now we're looking ahead to Sunday and will see what we can achieve there."
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