There are many mountains left between here and Milan – some 39 per cent of the total climbing is shoehorned into the final week – but Giro d'Italia director Mauro Vegni must have felt the race had overcome a significant obstacle when the twenty remaining teams all started stage 16 in Udine.
An hour or so before the stage began, RCS Sport and the UCI announced that two further COVID-19 cases had been recorded during PCR testing for all riders and staff carried out on the rest day.
A week ago, Jumbo-Visma and Mitchelton-Scott withdrew en masse from the Giro after positive cases in testing on the first rest day. Two days later, the UCI rejected a request from EF Pro Cycling for the Giro to be brought to an early end, though additional rapid testing was ordered for the entire race bubble at the end of last week.
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Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport ahead of stage 16, Vegni expressed satisfaction that just two of the 492 riders and staff controlled during Monday's rest day had tested positive for COVID-19.
"It shows that we're doing the controls, we're doing them seriously, without hiding anything. I think the number [of positive cases confirmed] is very small considering the situation in our country, where many mayors have already requested a sort of curfew," Vegni said. "Having only two cases is something very positive."
The Giro looked at greater risk in the middle of last week, when EF Pro Cycling stated they would leave the race if a positive case was confirmed on their team, while Thomas De Gendt said that the Lotto Soudal squad had discussed departing the race after 17 police officers escorting the Giro-E e-bike race were confirmed as testing positive for COVID-19.
"Apart from that case last week, the teams all seem quite calm and serene," Vegni said on Tuesday. "They are aware the problem that isn't a problem for the Giro but a problem for the whole world. They're happy that we're continuing to test them almost constantly, every day, because they know it's for their health. There's maximum collaboration and we'll continue with these controls until the end, to protect the Giro, but also to protect the world around us."
Outside the race bubble, the number of coronavirus cases in Italy has been rising since the event began in Palermo over two weeks ago. On Sunday, Italy reported a record 11,705 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Prime minister Giuseppe Conte announced new restrictions to curb the spread of the virus later that evening, but elite sport – including Serie A and the Giro – is not affected directly by the additional measures.
"We're still going ahead day by day, because of the climate in the whole country," Vegni said. "But like I've always said, we need to live with this problem with our heads held high, but always maintaining all the safety measures that are in place."
It still remains to be seen if the Giro will be able to climb all of the mountains on the route in this demanding final week. The Stelvio is the centrepiece of stage 17 and the reports from the 2,700m-high summit are promising for Thursday afternoon. The road has been cleared after snowfall last week and temperatures are higher this week than last, though the wind chill at the summit – and on the descent – will make itself felt.
"October didn't worry me for the snow so much as for the temperatures. If it rains at that altitude, the perception of cold is more elevated," Vegni told RAI on Sunday, when he downplayed concerns that the Giro might be prevented from making its planned detour into France via the Agnello during Saturday's penultimate stage.
"We're talking about this problem now, but we have to see day by day because it's an evolving situation, from country to country. We've received no notification of a problem from the French authorities."
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