Two first riders left the Tour de France on Saturday, testing positive for Covid: Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard at AG2R and Norwegian Vegard Stake Laengen. The very day the peloton returned to the Swiss roads, the scene of a carnage of abandonments on Covid-19 during the Tour de Suisse last month. An epidemic that worries within the peloton.
The Covid-19 is back on the Tour de France. And he freaks everyone out. While the virus had so far only penalized some riders before the start, the Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard at AG2R and the Norwegian Vegard Stake Laengen had to leave the Grande Boucle this Saturday after positive tests. A return of the Covid which worries within the peloton, which has not forgotten the gigantic cluster which declared itself a few weeks ago during the Tour de Suisse.
Tadej Pogacar now has to do with one less teammate. Despite the precautions taken by his UAE team, with individual rooms and physiotherapists, the Norwegian Laengen tested positive this Saturday. “We lost Laengen, he was the big guy in the team. He was in good shape, riding on the flat, on the climbs, everywhere. It was like the train of the team. It’s going to be harder without him, reacted the Slovenian and overall leader after the day’s stage, which he finished in third place in Lausanne.Despite everything, I think we can get by with seven riders until Paris. (…) The Covid is not a rival but a parameter that can affect things. It can ruin the Tour. But my opponents are teams like Jumbo and Ineos.
“We are testing every day. The whole team has been negative for ten days, including yesterday (Friday). But this (Saturday) morning, Laengen tested positive,” Emirati team doctor Adriano Rotunno told the AFP. The Norwegian had a “itchy throat in the night”, detailed Pogacar at a press conference. “We are obviously worried because he has been in contact with the riders, the whole team,” admitted the doctor.
“There is a part of stress in relation to the Covid”
“The Covid was a cause for concern from the start. I am not more afraid than before”, relativized for his part Richard Plugge, manager of Jonas Vingegaard at Jumbo-Visma. “For us, it is impossible to raise the level of precautions, it is at the maximum”, he assures. Hotel air purifiers, room cleaning… the Dutch team has not relaxed its vigilance compared to 2020 and 2021. It has even brought the FFP2 mask up to date, like Quick-Step, when Astana and Movistar prefer the surgical version.
“There is a part of stress in relation to the Covid, we are obviously careful but we do not control everything, confides Guillaume Martin at the microphone of RMC Sport. On the Tour in general, illnesses are part of the lot, there it is d “all the more true in times of Covid. For the general population, the Covid is less serious than before so it will be difficult to understand to limit access. Afterwards there is another subject, I am not worried about my health but for my sports performance. We are only a microcosm compared to the people who want to participate in the Tour de France. It is certain that a month or two ago we all thought we were done, we kissed each other and we would have the hand, then it becomes painful for everyone.”
“We don’t know all the consequences of the Covid”, worries Pinot
Thibaut Pinot, he wonders if the Covid is not one of the people responsible for his poor performance on the Tour, when he had contracted the virus just before the start of the Grande Boucle. The Groupama-FDJ rider finished the 8th stage of the day in 51st place and is in 33rd place in the general classification. “I can’t wait to get back to my good feelings, he said at the end of the day. It worries me because we don’t know all the consequences of the Covid, there are runners who have been sick at the same time as me who are still not at the top either so that reassures me.
Concern is growing as the whole peloton will be tested on Monday during the rest day before the Alps. A battery of screenings that does not seem to alarm Groupama FDJ manager Marc Madiot: “We saw what happened around Switzerland, we are not going to have any illusions. The rest day will be the official test, but we do it every day.”
“I apologize to the fans who come”
Asked about the absence of masks in the public, when all the health restrictions have been lifted, he replied: “The public lives normally, me too when I am at home I live normally, but when I am on the Tour it is different. We can blame no one. We are in a much more delicate situation than the past two seasons because the public understood was anxious and paid attention. Today there are no more rules for the public so that if a runner is positive he goes home.”
David Gaudu also evokes this public, recalling that the strict rules put in place by Groupama-FDJ limit contact with the spectators: “It’s a little scary and we all have the sword of Damocles above our heads. everyone very careful in the team, we have a strict protocol and unfortunately I apologize to the fans who come, we will avoid taking selfies or making autographs. For the children, it is a bit reluctant that I tell them no or I don’t listen to them, because it hurts my heart to have to tell them no.”