Tadej Pogačar has admitted the outbreak of COVID-19 at his UAE Team Emirates squad is “stressful” as he tries to polish his form at the Tour of Slovenia and avoid catching COVID-19 in the two weeks before the start of the Tour de France.
Pogačar is the favourite for the 2022 race after victory in 2020 and 2021 but even a mild case of COVID-19 now would make it virtually impossible for him or anyone else to line up at the start of the Tour de France in Copenhagen on Friday July 1.
23-year-old Pogačar caught COVID-19 in January but recovered quickly to win the UAE Tour and have a successful spring campaign.
He was one of the first riders to be vaccinated in early 2021 along with his UAE Team Emirates team and reportedly had a second vaccine last summer.
“It's quite stressful, but there's nothing we can do, we try to isolate and survive without further infection,” Pogačar told Sio1 television before the start of stage 3 of the Tour of Slovenia.
COVID-19 cases exploded at the Tour de Suisse on Thursday and Friday, with Marc Hirschi and Diego Ulissi amongst a number of riders testing positive. UAE Team Emirates decided to leave the race, as did Alpecin-Fenix and Bahrain Victorious.
UAE Team Emirates also confirmed that Mikkel Bjerg, a key domestique for Pogačar at the Tour de France, was diagnosed with COVID-19 overnight while racing in Slovenia. Bjerg’s roommate and also an expected Tour de France domestique Vegard Stake Laengen was sent home as a precaution.
Pogačar tested negative in testing before stage 3 and is expected to try to win the Tour of Slovenia.
"The situation in Switzerland is terrible, our team is not starting there today,” Pogačar said.
“Here in the Tour of Slovenia, Mikkel (Bjerg) was positive, so he and his roommate went home. It's quite stressful, but we can't do anything.”
Pogačar snatched victory in the 2020 Tour de France when it was postponed to September due to the COVID-19 pandemic and dominated the race in 2021.
However the line-up of the UAE Team Emirates squad for the 2022 Tour de France is now in doubt after several COVID-19 positives at the Tour de Suisse and the Tour of Slovenia. A number of teams, including Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma are in a similar position.
“Unfortunately, like many other teams we have also had a surge in COVID-19 cases. Our affected riders have been fully assessed, and are currently mildly symptomatic,” said Adrian Rotunno, the team’s medical director.
“The riders sharing a room with the positive cases are deemed high-risk contacts, so in the interest of rider, team and community health, we decided it is best that they also be withdrawn.
“It’s a pity but the reality is that the virus is still with us as a society and we are monitoring our athletes regularly to be as careful as we can.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.