After pulling out of the Giro d'Italia ahead of stage 10 due to five positive COVID-19 cases within their roster and staff entourage, the Mitchelton-Scott team will monitor the situation and hold talks in the next 48 hours to determine if they will race the Vuelta a España. The final Grand Tour of this truncated season is set to start next week on September 20 even as COVID-19 cases are rapidly growing across Europe.
Last week, Mitchelton-Scott's Giro d'Italia leader Simon Yates was forced out of the race after returning a positive COVID-19 test, while four staff members from the Australian team returned the same results after tests were taken on Sunday and during Monday's rest day. Ahead of Tuesday's stage 10, the team decided in conjunction with Giro d'Italia organiser RCS to leave the race. Jumbo-Visma followed suit after their GC leader Steven Kruijswijk also tested positive for the virus.
Upcoming talks within the Mitchelton-Scott management will not lead to a snap decision over the team's Vuelta a España participation, but General Manager Brent Copeland has told Cyclingnews that the team will take a socially-responsible stance if cases in Spain continue to rise, and the staff and riders feel uneasy about racing.
"We're not going to make a decision tomorrow but we will have an open discussion over where we go next because the numbers in Spain are increasing rapidly," Copeland told Cyclingnews.
"We'll see how it goes in the next few days but we don't want to find ourselves in the same situation at the Vuelta as we had at the Giro. At the moment we want to go, but if we'll talk internally and if there's unease about going then we'll make a decision based on our social responsibility."
According to Copeland, even with the Giro roster and the team's staff now isolating, the squad still has the personnel to race the Vuelta, but the central issue comes down to safety and the health of those within the Mitchelton-Scott bubble. The experience of the Giro has highlighted that despite good intentions from the organisations and the teams, there is still no real defence against coronavirus.
"As far as the logistical side is concerned we're covered for that side of things," Copeland said with regards to the Vuelta.
"The problem is the same for everyone because everyone is cautious while the numbers are increasing all over Europe. To take your riders and staff and put them into an area where there's a lot of infected people with this virus becomes a decision over social responsibility from an ethical point of view. We're looking at that as well and we're having a discussion at a management level with Gerry Ryan and Darach McQuaid about that tomorrow. If the numbers continue in this way, and as we saw at the Giro, no matter how hard we tried to stay in that bubble we still had positive cases.
"The scary part is that we had two nights of negatives and then on Sunday we had four positives. There are still big question marks over how this virus works and it comes back to a social responsibility, which is the same decision we took at the Giro. As far as UCI regulations go, we could have started but we felt it was unethical to do that with so many positives in the team."
For now, no decisions will be made and it should be stressed that the ultimate call on the Vuelta will be made by the Spanish authorities.
"All of this will depend on the numbers. We have riders and staff who have wives and partners who are pregnant and who have small children. Taking them far away from their families and having them quarantine in hotels is a difficult call to make," Copeland said.
"We're cautious over our next decision because while we have the visibility for sponsors to consider, and the sporting side, it all comes second to the health and well-being of our riders and staff."
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