In October, Quinten Hermans dominated the Cyclo-cross World Cup on the same Fayetteville, Arkansas course that will host the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships on Sunday but he was not on the plane this week from Belgium to the US after testing positive for COVID-19.
Hermans was devastated at the news of his exclusion, and in a virtual press conference with media on Wednesday, described how difficult the past few days have been, knowing that he will miss a huge opportunity to fight for the rainbow jersey in the absence of cyclo-cross giants Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert.
"I've had a few sleepless nights," Hermans said. "The past few days have been hell."
At the World Cup in Hoogerheide on Sunday, Hermans took the hole shot and was at the head of the race when favourite Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) came across to him and European Champion Lars van der Haar (Netherlands), but lost contact after crashing over the Dutchman when he slid out in a corner. Hermans lost his chain and dropped out of contention, but his first few laps showed that his form was very good.
After the race, before he was due to board the flight to Chicago, Hermans got his coronavirus test results back and they were positive. Still, he had hopes he could travel to the US later in the week because the tests indicated he was at the end of the infection.
"I have not really been contagious, because the CT value of the test was already very high," Hermans said.
CT value is the number of cycles that the PCR test takes to detect the virus. The more virus that is present, the earlier it shows up, and a high number means there is very little virus in the sample. But the science behind CT value has yet to be adopted by those who enact the sanitary measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hermans had no recourse.
"My doctor said it was 99 percent sure that I would test negative on Tuesday or Wednesday," Hermans said. "I had a little bit of hope that I would still get to the US. I started training on Monday and Tuesday for the World Championships."
However, Belgian team coach Sven Vanthourenhout made it clear to the rider, his sports director Bart Wellens and manager Aike Visbeek that it would be impossible for Hermans to travel.
"The [Belgian federation] follows the government's corona measures, so there was little room to negotiate. I have therefore no longer been tested yesterday and today."
The outcome was a sour one for the 26-year-old who says he has had no symptoms and has physically been completely fine, and he doubts he will even be able to watch his compatriots compete.
"This weekend I will absolutely not watch the World Championships. The thought that I will not be there myself hurts. I also have a hard time when I see something on social media about the Cyclo-cross World Championships. These may have been the most difficult days of my career," he said.
Although he is struggling to come to grips with his exclusion from the race, Hermans still wishes his teammates success.
"Hopefully they come home with a rainbow jersey. Hopefully I can also take revenge next year, although I will have to make some progress to challenge Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel."
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.
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