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UCI takes 'no pleasure' in hug ban, but insists it's 'essential'

SD Worx
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The UCI has expanded on the ban on riders hugging, insisting it takes "no pleasure" in clamping down on post-race celebrations but deeming it "essential" in light of the ongoing pandemic. 

The initiative was first mentioned by the UCI's medical director Xavier Bigard last week, and was added to the governing body's coronavirus protocol on Monday. 

There will be no sanctions for rule-breakers, but the measure is listed as mandatory when there is a 'moderate' or 'low' risk in terms of pandemic severity. 

"Although from a medical point of view the risk of contamination between members of a team bubble remains low, the UCI nevertheless considers it necessary that riders adopt the basic precautionary measures, including respecting a minimum physical distance," the UCI said in an accompanying statement on Monday. 

"Demonstrations of joy and congratulation are spontaneous and natural, and are part of the beauty of our sport. It is therefore no pleasure for the UCI to strongly recommend all concerned to refrain from hugging at the finish. However, due to the current pandemic it is essential to temporarily modify certain habits so that we can get back to normal as quickly as possible."

The clamp-down on hugging is now part of the wider coronavirus protocol, which covers measures including team bubbles, management of suspected cases, and organisation of starts and finish areas. 

Each measure is graded according to the 'pandemic severity', covering 'moderate', 'low', and 'very low' areas of risk. The ban on hugs is considered mandatory in the first two categories, to be enforced by teams amid moderate risk, and by the race organisation amid low risk. In the case of very low risk, the ban is merely 'recommended'. 

The UCI, which has followed in the footsteps of other team sports such as football and rugby, reiterated that the measure is not so much designed to reduce contagion as to set an example for the general public. 

"The UCI has informed the representatives of riders and teams, and will continue to ensure that the peloton is made aware of this change which is common sense and in line with our desire to ensure our sport is exemplary in these difficult times," read the statement. 

Elsewhere, the coronavirus protocols are largely unchanged from last year, when the season resumed in August following a five-month hiatus during the first wave. Pre-race PCR tests and protective bubbles are still in place, as are masks for pre and post-race podium ceremonies. Organisers and team have to appoint COVID-19 doctors, responsible for managing any cases at races.

Last week, Bigard indicated the measures would be in place for the foreseeable future, pointing out that the rise of new variants of the virus means "we can't expect a normal Tour de France" this year.