Cycling: The biggest concern of the Tour de France is the corona virus – sport

On Wednesday, probably the strongest team in the forthcoming Tour de France, the Dutch team Jumbo-Visma, got hit. Merijn Zeeman, Jumbo’s sports director, was affected, whom they threw out at the tour two years ago because he had messed with bike inspectors who had examined the bike of his driver Primoz Roglic for technical aids. The 43-year-old has now announced that he has contracted Covid-19. Zeeman will look after the drivers from afar and get back to the team as soon as possible, his team said. It was not mentioned who Zeeman was in contact with until the end. In any case, a quote from Roglic, one of the top favorites on this tour as well, did not sound like great joy: “Fortunately, I’m still negative,” he said, “we can only follow the rules and protect as best we can. Everything other is not in our hands.”

That sums up the mood with which the peloton heads into this 109th Tour de France, which begins on Friday with an individual time trial in Copenhagen. The route is peppered with the usual meanness, cobblestones, hectic finishes, rock-hard mountain stages. The biggest concern, however, which often sounded through recently, is manifested less in starving branches and mass falls, but in the question of how to avoid a virus that cannot be shaken off so easily by starting in the hairpin bends of Alpe d’Huez.

In this light, it is interesting that the tour organizer ASO and the world cycling association UCI have not tightened the Corona regulations, but have softened them. At the beginning and on rest days, drivers and supervisors are only screened with rapid antigen tests (instead of PCR tests), with each positive rapid test being verified by a PCR test. If two drivers are positive, their entire team no longer has to leave the race. A rider who has been tested conspicuously can even continue pedaling if the ASO and the medical department of the world cycling association are sure that he is not (or no longer) contagious. It takes little imagination that the organizers are less trying to contain a virus and more trying to save a race before it has started.

Some professionals have recently suffered from fever and chills – and want to find out on the first stage whether they are fit

The Tour de Suisse, one of the dress rehearsals before the France loop, recently illuminated how difficult this is in good time: Four teams left the race completely (Jumbo-Visma, UAE Emirates, Bahrain-Victorious, Alpecin-Fenix), only around half of them originally 152 riders moved into the final stage. A precautionary measure, many emphasized, you don’t want to jeopardize the high point of the season in France, of course. Only: The virus would have taken very new, funny paths if it hadn’t already burrowed through entire teams in Switzerland (unless the peloton recently hatched a new virus mutation that only spreads in selected wings of the team hotel).

Tadej Pogacar, the winner of the last two tours of France, mixed his speeches with a serious bass when he got in the mood for the tour at the Tour of Slovenia. He allowed himself to be photographed with the fans for the first few days, but then quickly gave up this practice. “We will isolate ourselves as much as possible,” he said, “we want to be at the start of the tour.” Some of those responsible in the peloton observed that the virus recently gave little thought to whether a team isolated itself or not.

On Wednesday, another helper from Pogacar’s tour selection promptly caught the eye, Italian Matteo Trentin. Other teams also reported positive cases, such as Quickstep’s noble helper Tim Declerq. And many professionals like Maximilian Schachmann, one of probably only nine Germans in the field, or France’s great hope Thibaut Pinot trembled to the last whether they would be fit for the tour after their recent corona infections. Britain’s Adam Yates, recently plagued by fever and chills, said on Wednesday: “We’ll find out how fit I am in Friday’s time trial.”

How will the tour continue to climb this ridge in the coming weeks? Most recently, the UCI recommended that all teams carry out quick tests on drivers and coaches on a daily basis; many teams held their press conferences digitally (and the reporters away from the accommodation). Otherwise, fans and reporters should be able to approach the route and team buses again in the coming weeks at the stage locations, with a little more distance than usual. Not only the tour always drew great strength from this closeness to the people – and a lot of advertising value. Will that change now? “I have a stomach ache that we are sealing ourselves off,” said Bora’s team boss Ralph Denk recently. “Then we might be virus-free at some point, but also budget-free.”



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