Fear is spreading through the ranks of the Tour de France peloton. This Saturday, July 9, the Grande Boucle 2022 experienced its first two abandonments following positive tests for Covid-19: Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE Team Emirates), teammate in the yellow jersey Tadej Pogacar and Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R-Citroën ). Something to worry runners and sports directors.
Before the start of the 8th stage, between Dole and Lausanne, Marc Madiot, the general manager of the Groupama-FDJ formation, expressed his fear of seeing the virus spread within the peloton. ” Something has to be done. You have to close. Recreate a health bubble, as over the past two years. Even if it is, no doubt, already too late, did he deliver to one of the special envoys of West Francethis Saturday morning. For the former runner, it is up to the organizer, Amaury Sports Organisation, to take responsibility. “Look at the start, we have people who are along the barriers and who are not masked. I have nothing against people, it’s normal they are in their right, but it sucks. And it can go now… Remember the Tour de Suisse, we are in the same pattern. It’s always after a few days of racing that things take off…”
Questioned immediately afterwards, Thierry Gouvenou, technical director of the Tour de France, replied that “for the moment, the return to a strict bubble is not envisaged. But we discover all that this Saturday morning… Anything is possible, anything can happen. In any case, we have not had an official request. » He wanted to reassure: “We do not discover the problem. We know, in view of the figures in France, that it will be tense. But there, everyone has a mask in the team paddock, if the riders go out they have a mask, it’s already more than in everyday life…”
“It’s scary and thought-provoking”
“It’s a little scary and thinking (the two positive cases of this Saturday morning), admits, for his part, Benoît Genauzeau, sports director of TotalEnergies. I imagine that it must reflect on the side of the organizers and the UCI (International Cycling Union) to determine whether further action is required. We, internally, are doubling our vigilance, like the other teams. […] We try to do our best to respect the bubble around the runners. »
Before the start of the Grande Boucle, on Friday July 1, in Copenhagen (Denmark), many teams had to review their plans after positive controls. The Quick-Step team alone has had to call on three new sports directors since the start of the Tour. Lylian Lebreton, one of the sports directors of TotalEnergies, has also left the event and should return soon, as soon as he is no longer contagious.
The peloton marked by the covid on the Tour de Suisse
Before the start in Copenhagen, half a dozen riders were replaced within their respective formations. In the Pogacar team, the Italian Matteo Trentin in particular had to give way to the Swiss Marc Hirschi while the French champion Florian Sénéchal owes his presence to the package of the Belgian Tim Declercq.
The peloton is also still marked by the memory of the Tour de Suisse. In June, the Swiss event, which takes place over a week, was marked by a large wave of positive cases for Covid-19. Before the 6th stage, around thirty riders had to leave the race. After the Tour de Suisse, the UCI had also updated its protocol before the start of the Tour de France.
A bubble introduced from Monday?
The tests are compulsory before the start and during the two rest days of the event, riders and team personnel included. The whole peloton will therefore be tested on Sunday evening or Monday, during the rest day before the Alps. In case of positivity, the protocol provides that “the decision on possible isolation will be taken collectively by the doctor of the team concerned, the Covid-19 doctor for the event and the medical director of the UCI”. The international federation has waived the rule of automatic exclusion from the race for a team with two Covid-positive runners within seven days.
Jérôme Pineau, manager of B & B Hotels KTM, also fears the rest of this Tour de France. “There is the fear, of course, that there will be more cases. It’s only the beginning of a new wave, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be affected…”
“It’s up to the organizers to decide”
Should we redo a camera on the Tour? “Athletes must be protected, but I am not a decision-maker, does he think. It’s up to the organizers to decide, and I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes. Afterwards, we are already paying close attention. And on the other hand, you can’t empty the hotels of their customers… People need to work again, to come out. But yes, we will have to be even more vigilant. For me, it will be complicated to go back behind closed doors. There are economic services that have been sold, too, we must not forget that… If tomorrow we kick everyone out, we will have to reimburse some bills… ”
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“The radical solution would be to say to ourselves that we no longer let anyone enter the paddocks, confides for his part Cédric Vasseur, manager of Cofidis. If Monday (rest day and runners’ tests), we see that there is an upsurge in cases, ASO may take this decision. […] If the Covid-19 appears on the Tour, the general classification may no longer have any meaning (due to many dropouts). »
Opinions are divided, therefore. But there is concern.