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Vaughters: UCI didn't take our Giro d'Italia concerns very seriously

Jonathan Vaughters
EF Pro Cycling boss Jonathan Vaughters (Image credit: Getty Images)

EF Pro Cycling boss Jonathan Vaughters feels his team’s letter calling for the Giro d’Italia to be stopped early due to COVID-19 has fallen on deaf ears, regretting that what he described as an attempt at collaboration will seemingly go no further. 

On Thursday, Eurosport revealed the American team had written to the UCI along with Giro organisers RCS Sport and their fellow teams, calling for the race to be stopped on Monday’s second rest day because of "a clearly compromised bubble".

The UCI swiftly responded to the letter, pointing out the additional tests being carried out on Thursday and Friday. "With these measures, we trust in everyone's cooperation in the common goal of continuing our sport in the safest possible conditions," wrote UCI president David Lappartient. "The outcome of these measures will be closely monitored throughout the continuation of the event and for any additional measures."

Speaking to Cyclingnews, Vaughters, not for the first time, expressed his frustration with the governing body.

"The response doesn’t really address our suggestion, it doesn't actually even take note of the suggestion of ending the race early," he said. "It’s neither here nor there. The UCI response doesn’t read as if they took our concerns very seriously."

Vaughters also expanded on the motives behind the letter. Rather than a firm demand for the race to be called to a halt, he described it as an attempt at dialogue. 

"Our letter was just in the spirit of getting RCS and the teams to work together on considering wrapping the race up early, and that’s just based on the 11 positives we had on the last rest day," he said. 

"It was a total positive rate of around two per cent, which could – if not necessarily – mean the bubble has pierced. Our medical director said ‘well, if there are 11 positives, there could be greater spread going on, so it would probably be a good idea to suggest we figure out an organised early departure form the race.

"That doesn’t mean our team is just going to pull out unilaterally, it means we’re just asking all the other teams and RCS to come up with maybe an alternative race finish date to be able to finish up the race in an organised and honourable way, as opposed to something more chaotic – having two or three teams leaving and others staying. 

"We’d rather have it as a more collaborative process. They may not take that suggestion, and that’s fine, but we felt it was our obligation to at least suggest it."

Whereas the letter stated the Giro bubble was "clearly compromised", Vaughters himself stopped short of saying the race was taking place in unsafe conditions.

"We’re not saying that. We’re saying it could be [unsafe]. We don’t really know the answer to that," he said. 

"They’re conducting more tests today and we’ll see what those tests are like, and whether or not the race has been compromised or not. We don’t actually know."

Vaughters confirmed he would follow the example of Jumbo-Visma in pulling his team from the race if one of his riders or staff tested positive, describing it as "the responsible thing to do". 

For now, though, they appear to be continuing in the race, with the riders themselves apparently keen to press on. 

"Racers wanna race," Vaughters said. "Our guys don’t want to leave the race. Bike racers want to get out there and race. I don’t think our riders are feeling unsafe. We’re just trying to watch out for their best interests. 

"I don’t think any of our guys want to leave the Giro early by any stretch. We just want to make sure that at least other options are being considered – not only for riders’ welfare but for everyone on the race and the towns we’re going through and the hotels we’re staying at. Just that broader public health is being considered."

Read EF Pro Cycling's letter below

Dear RCS, UCI, Stakeholders and Teams,

Thank you for your efforts to produce a safe and compelling Giro d’Italia. We have enjoyed our team at the race so far.

Unfortunately, given the news of:

• Reportedly 11 positive tests across four teams within the peloton ‘bubble’

• Estimated positivity rate of ~2%, which feels too high in a population that should be protected, asymptomatic, and with an extremely low positivity rate

• An outbreak across teams within the peloton

With a clearly compromised bubble and an expected lag between exposure and symptoms/positives, it must be expected that further illness will result. This is not a given, but the precautionary principle would suggest we act responsibly and adopt a conservative approach

For the health and safety of riders, staff, and the communities through which we race, we recommend that the Giro be stopped early. We believe it would be better for the Giro and the UCI World Tour should this be done in a systematic, holistic way versus a chaotic withdrawal on a team by team basis. The second rest day seems a natural break in the race to declare winners and a successful 2020 Giro d’Italia. In the meantime, we support the idea of:

• At least two systematic Covid tests before that rest day and an earlier close to the race if additional tests return positive prior to the rest day

• Properly sealing off the team paddocks in both the start and finish areas and to reinforce safety of the teams in the hotels.

While we hope to remain in the race until an official early finish, should anyone on our team test positive or should the riders and staff grow uncomfortable with the situation, we will leave the race at that time and would, of course, give you as much notice as possible.

Thank you for your consideration and continued attention to this situation.