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Sunweb say they are 'following the rules' by staying in Giro d'Italia despite confirmed COVID-19 case

PALERMO ITALY OCTOBER 01 Nico Denz of Germany Chad Haga of The United States Chris Hamilton of Australia Jai Hindley of Australia Wilco Kelderman of The Netherlands Michael Matthews of Australia Sam Oomen of The Netherlands Martijn Tusveld of The Netherlands and Team Sunweb Trofeo Senza Fine Trophy during the 103rd Giro dItalia 2020 Team Presentation in Archaeological Park of Segesta in Palermo City Temple of Segesta girodiitalia Giro on October 01 2020 in Palermo Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Team Sunweb at 2020 Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Despite Michael Matthews’ positive test for COVID-19 during rest day controls at the Giro d’Italia, Team Sunweb opted not to join Jumbo-Visma in leaving the race altogether, stating that they are “following the rules” agreed upon with the UCI and RCS Sport beforehand.

Jumbo-Visma withdrew from the Giro on Tuesday morning after Steven Kruijswijk tested positive for coronavirus, while Mitchelton-Scott also pulled out after four staff members returned positive tests. Mitchelton-Scott rider Simon Yates had previously left the Giro on Saturday after contracting COVID-19.

Individual staff members at Ineos Grenadiers and AG2R La Mondiale were also confirmed as positive for COVID-19 during the round of mandatory PCR tests carried out on Sunday evening and Monday morning. Both teams, like Sunweb, have opted to stay in the Giro d'Italia pending repeated tests on their riders and staff on the race.

Sunweb withdrew Tiesj Benoot from Gent-Wevelgem at the weekend due to his close contact with Jan Bakelants (Circus-Wanty Gobert), who went on to test positive for COVID-19. The pair had appeared together on Belgian television show Extra Time Koers on Wednesday evening after racing at Brabantse Pijl.

Despite that precedent, Sunweb opted not to pull their entire team out of the Giro in the wake of Matthews' positive test. Wilco Kelderman currently lies second overall, 34 seconds behind maglia rosa João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep), while Jai Hindley is 7th at 1:19.

"Basically, we're just following the rules we agreed upon with the UCI and with the organisation before we came, the protocol we follow in stage races. That's basically the decision that we made," Sunweb directeur sportif Luke Roberts said in Tortoreto Lido after stage 10.

Asked if Sunweb had considered following the lead of Jumbo-Visma and leaving the race after one of their riders had tested positive for COVID-19, Roberts said: "No, I think we're confident in the way we're working inside our bubble, with the distancing. We isolated Michael and the team will be regularly tested. We'll just follow the protocols agreed upon."

Kelderman and Hindley both finished in a reduced maglia rosa group at the end of a breathless stage 10 that saw some of the general classification go on the offensive over the muri near the finish at Tortoreto Lido. Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates), second on the stage, was among those who felt that riders were perhaps racing more aggressively given the growing doubts over whether this Giro would run its full course to Milan.

Roberts, however, insisted that Kelderman and Sunweb were racing under the assumption that the Giro will continue as planned towards its mountainous denouement in the third week.

"I think we have our eyes on the last week," Roberts said. "There are probably opportunities where we could have gone after the leader's jersey, but in the big picture, we're aiming to go to Milan. We're aiming to go there to win it. We don't want to change our focus off that, and we'll keep working here as we'd planned.

"We'll miss Michael, because he could have gone for stage wins, and he's also a strong rider we could use to work for the GC as well. Missing a rider is not ideal, but we'll just carry on and keep our focus on what we can control."