Peter Cossins

Covid threat looms over men’s and women’s Tours

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The probability of Covid having a significant impact on both the men’s and women’s editions of the Tour de France looks ever more likely following a rash of positive cases at the Tour of Switzerland and Tour of Slovenia, the last two major preparation races for many of the likely contenders for the men’s race, which gets under way in Copenhagen two weeks from today, 1 July.

Even as I’m writing this story, the news from Switzerland and Slovenia is changing all the time. The Swiss race has been the harder hit. Ineos Grenadiers leader Adam Yates was one of the first to pull out due to a positive test, prior to Thursday’s fifth stage. Jumbo-Visma then pulled their whole seven-man team from the event that same morning.

On Friday morning, what had begun as a trickle of positive cases became a full-on rush. Race leader Aleksandr Vlasov and his Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Anton Palzer were both forced out after positive lateral flow tests. Bahrain Victorious withdrew their five remaining riders after a series of positives. EF Education Easy Post had four riders affected, leaving them with just two in the race.

Three cases at UAE Team Emirates prompted them to withdraw all of their seven riders. Alpecin-Fenix made the same decision, pulling out the five riders they had left in the race. Several other teams were affected too, losing one or two riders, including Trek-Segafredo, Israel-PremierTech and Ineos once again, who lost Tom Pidcock. Ultimately, the sixth stage began with just 93 of the original 154 starters left in the field.

The situation is not as severe in Slovenia, although the one team that has been significantly affected is defending Tour de France champion’s UAE, who lost Mikkel Bjerg and Vegard Laengen to positive tests ahead of Friday’s third stage. The Dane and the Norwegian are both slated to start the Tour in a fortnight.

As the news was unfolding, UAE team doctor Iñigo San Millán posted a plea on Twitter for the reintroduction of stricter sanitary measures at the Tour de France. “The way situation is now with total lax of measurements against COVID, TdF can be a complete chaos with major teams forced to leave the race. @LeTour please bring the bubble back,” San Millán urged.

The situation mirrors the rash of withdrawals that affected Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico earlier in the season, although Covid was not the primary culprit on that occasion, with most riders affected by a different flu-like virus. Subsequently, the sanitary restrictions have been gradually eased, to an extent at the request of teams, who were unable to bring their VIP guests, including their sponsors, into the team bus paddock areas at race starts and finishes so that they could meet and mingle with riders and staff.

At the recent Critérium du Dauphiné, VIPs and the media were allowed into these paddocks. The race’s organiser, ASO, had indicated that the same procedure would be followed at both the mens’s and women’s editions of the Tour de France. Yet ASO will certainly be tracking developments in Switzerland and Slovenia, as well as the latest statistics on Covid cases.

The most recent stats Europe, covering the week up to 15 June, reveal that the incidence of coronavirus is four times higher in France than it currently is in those two countries. This story may run for a good while yet…


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