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Mathieu van der Poel facing a week of COVID-19 tests ahead of possible Omloop Het Nieuwsblad start

UAE Tour 2021 - 3th Edition - 1st stage Al Dhafra Castle - Al Mirfa 176 km - 21/02/2021 - Mathieu Van Der Poel (NED - Alpecin-Fenix) - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2021
Mathieu van der Poel at the start of stage 1 of the UAE Tour (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Alpecin-Fenix leader Mathieu van der Poel looks all set to start Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad should he return further negative COVID-19 tests this week.

In order to take part in the race, Van der Poel must follow the protocols of cycling's governing body, the UCI, as well as the Belgium's national federation's measures and those of the Belgian government.

The Dutchman, who won the opening stage at the UAE Tour, left the race along with his team after a staff member tested positive for the virus during a round of testing on Sunday evening. He was quickly linked to a start at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as Thomas Van Den Spiegel – head of organiser Flanders Classics – announced that he would be welcome at the race.

Alpecin-Fenix are set to announce their final roster for the race on Wednesday, and couldn't yet confirm or deny whether Van der Poel would be taking part.

The UCI's testing protocols, published last July, require riders and staff participating in one-day races to pass a PCR test six days before the race (in this case, Sunday), to complete a 'COVID-19 questionnaire' five days before the race (Monday), and to pass a second PCR test at least 72 hours before the race, taken at the site of the race start.

After testing negative for the virus on Sunday, Van der Poel has met the first of these requirements, along with four teammates, with all men also testing negative before departing the UAE on Monday night. Jonas Rickaert and Gianni Vermeersch, meanwhile, remain in quarantine after coming in close contact with the infected staff member.

Alpecin-Fenix told Cyclingnews that there have been no problems with the testing protocol and outlined the testing requirements to be followed this week, adding that the protocols set out by Belgian Cycling are also in play.

The national federation stipulates that if less than five days pass between a flight or trip on public transport and the race, a PCR test must be taken three days before the race with a rapid test to follow within 24 hours of the race start.

Van der Poel has already passed the Belgian national health protocols after testing negative on Monday. Van Den Spiegel said that a negative test is required five days before the race start.

"The UCI protocol prescribes that you must have a negative PCR test six days before the race, which was yesterday, and three days before, which is next Wednesday," he told VTM Nieuws on Monday.

"Then there is also the Belgian protocol whereby we, as organiser, also have to submit a negative rapid test for all riders who enter the country less than five days before the race, which was taken on Friday. If Mathieu meets these requirements, they can in principle start on Saturday."

Finally, there's the question of UCI Regulation 2.6.026 – the 'Drop-out' rule. This states that a rider dropping out of a race is forbidden from racing elsewhere during the race they have left, and as the final stage of the UAE Tour falls on Saturday, Van der Poel would been running the risk of a 15-day suspension – potentially ruling him out of Strade Bianche – and a small fine.

Exceptions to the rule can be made, though, should event organisers and the president of the commissaires panel agree to do so. It's very likely that, given the unavoidable circumstances of his leaving the race, an exception will be granted.

Cyclingnews has contacted the UCI for clarification.

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Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.

Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.