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‘No general state of concern’ about COVID-19, says Vuelta a España director

LES PRAERESNAVA SPAIN AUGUST 28 Remco Evenepoel of Belgium and Team QuickStep Alpha Vinyl Red Leader Jersey meets the media press at start prior to the 77th Tour of Spain 2022 Stage 9 a 1714km stage from Villaviciosa to Les Praeres Nava 743m LaVuelta22 WorldTour on August 28 2022 in Les Praeres Nava Spain Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
After stage 11, the media no longer had access to athletes in team paddocks, only at mix zones for interviews (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Vuelta a España Race Director Javier Guillén has downplayed concerns about the spate of COVID-19 cases that has seen 21 riders abandon with the virus during the first half of the race.

Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) and the Kern Pharma trio of Roger Adriá, Pau Miquel and Héctor Carretero were the latest riders to leave the Vuelta with COVID-19 before the start of stage 12 at the ElPozo meat plant. At the finish in Cabo de Gata, Guillén made an appearance on TVE’s post-stage discussion show to address the sheer volume of COVID-19 cases on the race.

“There isn’t any kind of medical situation going on,” Guillén said. “I’m no doctor, no matter what I think, I’m the director of the Vuelta a España and the COVID cases are occurring. I stick to medical criteria, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but what I do know or understand is that there is no general state of concern.”

The UCI coronavirus protocol dictates that riders undergo mandatory testing before the Vuelta begins and on the rest days, but the teams themselves carries out regular antigen tests to maintain their bubbles. “There is no requirement for the teams to do more, but they do it,” said Guillén.

Earlier on Wednesday, maillot rojo Remco Evenepoel suggested that the organisation could act to limit the number of spectators at race finishes. Shortly afterwards, the Vuelta announced that media would no longer be granted access to the team paddocks before and after stages. Access was previously allowed to journalists who returned a negative antigen test on each of the Vuelta’s rest days.

“We knew there would be COVID cases, because we’ve had COVID in all the races, but perhaps there is a bigger drip of cases going on,” Guillén said. “There are lots of asymptomatic cases and very light ones. We know the teams are testing a lot and that’s what producing the positives. We hope that the situation will get better.”

Kern Pharma Directeur Sportif Juanjo Oroz expressed annoyance that two of his three departing riders had displayed no symptoms of COVID-19. 

“You feel an injustice inside,” Oroz told Cadena SER. “The world has normalized COVID, and cycling has to do that now too. It makes you want to slam your fist on the table and say, ‘What is this?’”

UAE Team Emirates Manager Matxin Joxean Fernández, meanwhile, revealed that Juan Ayuso had been unwell with symptoms after the stage 10 time trial in Alicante, but the Spaniard tested negative in no fewer than four antigen tests across Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

At the Tour de France last month, Bob Jungels (AG2R Citroën) and Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates) tested positive for COVID-19 but were allowed to remain in the race as they were deemed to be carrying a low viral load. Guillén suggested that some riders who have left the Vuelta with COVID-19 might have been able to continue in the race had they been able to get a PCR test analysed in time.

“When you test positive with an antigen, the right thing is to do a PCR. And if the viral load [from a PCR] turns out to be low, they can race,” Guillén said. “The problem is that when they test positive in the morning, they don’t have time to do the PCR before going to the start. They would have to be allowed to start without knowing what the viral load is, and I suppose they [the UCI] still aren’t ready to allow that.”

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