The Tour de France is ready to ease its strict rules on COVID-19 cases at the race, allowing teams to continue even if they have more than two positive COVID-19 cases amongst their 30 riders and staff, according to a report by French newspaper L’Equipe.
Race organiser ASO presented their COVID-19 protocol to the 22 teams at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné. The document, obtained by Cyclingnews, clearly indicates that "if two persons or more from the same team present strongly suspect symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19 the team in question will be expelled from the Tour de France.”
Race director Christian Prudhomme quickly specified that the whole team would have to quit if the two cases occurred within seven days. However, that did not placate the teams, who warned that two positives among mechanics and soigneurs could force a Tour de France contender or even race leader to head home.
According to L’Equipe, which is also owned by ASO, the rules will be rewritten after a meeting with teams. A team will only face expulsion from the Tour de France if two riders test positive or show symptoms for COVID-19.
Riders and staff will be considered different groups within each protective team bubble. The final rules have to be approved by the UCI and the French health authorities but UCI President David Lappartient hinted at a change.
“The measure will become more flexible.” he told L’Equipe at the European road race championships.
Groupama-FDJ team manager Marc Madiot suggested the teams and Tour de France organisers have to work together to resolve the issue.
“The idea is simple: we are all in the same boat, we all want the Tour to arrive in Paris and we will do everything we can."
Final COVID-19 tests in Nice
According to the UCI and Tour de France medical protocol, riders have to undergo two COVID-19 tests and test negative in both to get the green light to start the Tour de France.
The second test has to be done no earlier than 72 hours before the race. Riders traditionally arrive at the Tour de France on the Wednesday before the opening stage and so the final tests will be carried out by ASO in Nice on Wednesday and Thursday at a specially created mobile testing lab for the Tour de France.
However this could in theory mean riders will join and mix with their teammates before knowing the result of their final test. On Tuesday, the Bora-Hansgrohe team was pulled from the Bretagne Classic race after a rider’s second test was confirmed as positive just minutes before the start.
Bora-Hansgrohe has told Cyclingnews that Gatto underwent a second test on Tuesday evening and that was also negative.
Bora-Hansgrohe team manager Ralph Denk raised doubts about the UCI's testing strategy.
"It looks like my concerns are being confirmed," Denk said. "It is known that PCR tests have a certain rate of error and thus produce false positive results. This in itself would not be a problem, if there were the possibility to check the results immediately in the case of a positive finding.
"Of course, the health of everyone involved should and must always take priority, however, it is still unsatisfactory that consideration is not given to all other aspects. I think adjustments must be immediately made here.
"We also require certainty regarding testing procedures and strategy. If we don't have this, we will soon have serious issues, because who wants to invest in a lottery game as a serious company?"
The possibility of false positive forcing riders into quarantine and thus missing major races is a problem, especially given that the Tour de France is just days away. Bora-Hansgrohe are the first team to miss out on a WorldTour race after a positive COVID-19 test. Israel Start-Up Nation withdrew several riders from the Vuelta a Burgos after they had been in contact with teammate Itamar Einhorn, who had tested positive.
A false positive case could major problems at the Tour de France.
ASO have specified that, during the Tour, each team has to identify any riders and staff that have had close contact with any COVID-19 positive cases. This includes whoever has slept in the same room as the positive case such as a teammate or fellow staff member.
The Tour protocol makes it clear that “any “risk contacts” will be subject to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days following their last contact with the sick person.”
The Tour document says: “These persons will thus not be authorised to start the race (riders) or receive accreditation (personnel) for the TDF (even if a later PCR test is negative and even if the person does not show symptoms of Covid- 19).”
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