The coronavirus pandemic edition of the Tour de France made it through to the first rest day despite COVID-19 cases rising anew in France and crowds gathering in somewhat alarming numbers on climbs in the Pyrenees over the weekend.
As planned, the 'bubble' of riders and staff at the race are due to be tested on Monday, for the first time since the double tests carried out back in Nice before stage 1.
Tour rules, which were changed in the run-up to the race start, will mean that teams will be ejected from the race should any two individuals among riders and staff test positive. The potential huge blow to teams has made the upcoming round of PCR tests a nervous affair.
Testing will begin on Sunday night and be completed on Monday, since there are approximately 650 people to test. Results will only be announced on Tuesday morning before the start of stage 10 in île d'Oléron.
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After several cases of false positives in the peloton in recent weeks, concerns have been raised over the possibility of teams being ejected from the Tour only to later test negative.
Tour officials will perform follow-up analysis on any positives to confirm the first result before taking action, according to the Belga news agency. The PCR tests return results in two hours, so riders should still be able to start stage 10 on Tuesday even if they have to undergo re-testing.
"It could profoundly impact the way the whole thing goes down," EF Pro Cycling manager Jonathan Vaughters told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday.
"There are so many unanswered questions. It's phenomenally complicated – and unnerving."
In the days leading up to the Tour, two Lotto Soudal staff members were sent home after testing non-negative, though at a time when the race rules specified that two riders testing positive would force the team out of the race. On Monday, the team took re-tests with all results coming back negative.
Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme said before the start of the race that there are no rules in place for when the race must stop if COVID-19 hits the 'bubble.' There is also no plan in place specifying at what point in the race a valid winner can be declared, should it be halted before Paris.
"Everyone's racing like it's a three-week race, and just hoping that it isn't nine days," Vaughters said to the Wall Street Journal. "I'm really concerned about it, but on a day-to-day basis, I'm just forcing myself not to think about it."
Prudhomme received support from French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Saturday, who praised the organisation's efforts to secure the race against masses of spectators and potential COVID-19 spread.
The move came despite complaints from Movistar on Twitter regarding fans on the Col de Peyresourde not wearing masks. Prudhomme told Het Laatste Nieuws that "95 percent of the fans respect the Tour and wear a mask."
France took measures to reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19, bringing the R-value (average number of people to which an infected individual passes the virus) below 1 in May and sparking hopes the pandemic would die out there. But an influx of tourists and re-opening of schools and businesses have doubled that R-value in recent weeks bringing about a new surge in infections.
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