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Lotto Soudal squad to split into three 'bubbles' to reduce COVID-19 risks

Members of the Lotto Soudal team have reportedly already undergone COVID-19 antibody tests
Members of the Lotto Soudal team have reportedly already undergone COVID-19 antibody tests (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Lotto Soudal team will split their roster into three separate groups in a bid to reduce the risk of COVID-19 contagion when racing resumes this summer. 

The initiative, referred to as a 'bubble system' by the team's doctor, will see the three groups, which include riders and support staff, operate independently of one another. 

The roster will be split along the lines of the three Grand Tours, with one group forming the basis for the Tour de France squad, another for the Giro d'Italia, and another for the Vuelta a España. The rest of the 2020 calendar will be divided up accordingly and the riders will train and race only in their group. 

"Within the team, we started to think very quickly about how to get to back to racing as safely as possible," team doctor Jens De Decker told Sporza. "That's why we created a kind of 'bubble system' for our 28 riders.

"There are three bubbles and the three Grand Tours are the starting point. Such a bubble is actually a succession of different races on the cycling calendar in which we will keep the same staff and the same riders together in the coming months. The riders must also always share hotel rooms with the same person."

Rotation between bubbles will be kept to a minimum but it may not be possible to keep them entirely separate for the remainder of the year. 

"We will certainly have to be flexible for the riders. If someone has to leave a bubble and enter a new one, it will be preceded by a whole test protocol," De Decker said.

"We also need to see what the testing capacity is. Depending on the country we are in, we will also have to adapt. The local authorities always have the final say." 

The initiative follows Lotto Soudal's efforts to introduce a robust testing strategy for their riders, with a number undergoing antibody tests for COVID-19. The idea of limiting certain riders to certain programmes has already been raised, with Vincenzo Nibali set to follow an almost exclusively Italy-based programme in a bid to limit his travelling. 

"On paper it looks very good at the moment and it seems feasible, because we certainly have enough staff," De Decker said of the so-called bubble system. 

"In any case, this seems to me to be the best way to race as safely as possible."