The Tour de Suisse continued on Friday, despite further multiple cases of COVID-19 in the peloton and the consequent withdrawal of four leading teams. However, race director Olivier Senn admitted that the explosion of cases in the race means they will assess day by day if the race continues until Sunday.
Race leader Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgerohe) was one of a number of riders to test positive on Friday morning, along with Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) and Stefan Bissegger, Rigoberto Urán, Hugh Carthy, and Alberto Bettiol of EF Education-EasyPost.
A total of 29 riders did not start the race, following 16 withdrawals on Thursday. There are 93 riders left in the peloton.
The whole Jumbo-Visma team withdrew after four COVID-19 cases emerged on Thursday and they were joined by UAE Team Emirates, Bahrain Victorious and Alpecin-Fenix on Friday morning. With Vlasov pulling out of the race, Jakob Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech) pulled on a quickly-prepared race leader’s yellow jersey.
Riders were concerned about the COVID-19 cases as they lined up for the start in Locarno, well aware that the start of the Tour de France is just two weeks away.
The Tour de Suisse race director said the remaining 18 teams were willing to continue in the race despite the risk of more cases emerging. However, a decision on whether the race continues will be made each morning after further COVID-19 testing.
"We’ve assessed and discussed the situation. It’s obviously not nice and we're very sad that corona is spreading so far within the teams," Senn told Velo Pro Net at the start of the stage after a meeting with teams, the CPA rider association and the UCI medical officer Professor Xavier Bigard.
"Four teams have decided to withdraw, including the one that left yesterday, so there are 18 teams left in the race. All the remaining teams agreed to start and there is no further decision on today’s stage. We will reassess tomorrow morning and hope we don’t have many more cases. For the moment we keep going with the race as planned."
Senn accepted there was a risk the Tour de Suisse might not make it to the final time trial stage on Sunday around Vaduz.
"It’s something we’re thinking about and we’re trying prevent it obviously, it’s a balance between the safety of the riders involved, the whole event, our staff and everyone involved with the Tour de Suisse," Senn said.
"Obviously when the sporting relevance is not there anymore, then we we’ll have to discuss things. I think it’s a very difficult balance to find. That’s why we spoke with all the stakeholders.
"We believe we’re able to keeping going but we'll reassess tomorrow and decide day by day. With 18 teams we believe it’s still an open and real race. And we will keep going."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.