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Riders and team staff reacted to the news with a wide range of emotion, from cautious optimism to concern and fear.
“It hit us in the morning and we were like, if one guy can get it others can too,” said retired rider Maximillian Sciandri, now a director sportif with Team Movistar. “For sure it is a concern. The bubble is a bubble, but if somebody inside the bubble is positive, well the bubble has been popped in a way.”
Some riders and directors echoed Sciandri’s concern, while others said they were not as worried.
“I think it is still very possible that we will make it to Milan. Italy has been one of the more stable countries in terms of COVID-19 these past view months so I am not doubting we will make it to Milan and to be honest, it’s not a conversation people are having,” said Nicki Sorensen of Israel Start-Up Nation. “It’s just day by day. We’ve got our head in the race.”
Still, Yates’ positive test has cast doubt on the Giro’s safety bubble for riders and staff. The “bubble” concept has been the primary safety precaution throughout the return to racing. Riders are sequestered away from the outside world in the lead-up to the race and throughout the event, only interacting with teammates and team staff who are also supposed to be kept clear of the public.
The distance from family and friends is supposed to ensure that the riders cannot contract the virus and then transmit it to teammates or competitors during the race.
Wilco Kelderman of Team Sunweb said the news of Yates’ positive has made him question whether there will be more infections in the coming days.
“When you hear that a rider like that is positive in the peloton it makes you wonder if somebody else is going to be positive as well because you never know what’s going to happen,” Kelderman said. “I’m not really scared but we have to see. But it is getting quite scary all around Europe with COVID-19.”
Yates was one of the biggest stars in this year’s race, and he came in as Mitchelton-Scott’s primary rider for the overall. While the British rider faltered on the stage 3 summit finish to Mt. Etna, he was still in the hunt for the overall.
VeloNews understands that Yates was not sharing a room with other Mitchelton-Scott teammates during the race.
Earlier in the week, Yates’ teammate Brent Bookwalter said he was disappointed by the Giro d’Italia’s COVID-19 safety protocols during the opening stages in Sicily. Bookwalter said that Mitchelton-Scott stayed at a hotel that was packed with tourists and guests who were not part of the race, in addition to riders from other teams.
“This first hotel we were at had hundreds of other people, not involved in the race, hanging out there and passing through, visiting this massive buffet line that fortunately we were sort of kept separate from,” Bookwalter said. “That’s still a lot of exposure, and a lot of people around. They’re wearing varying level of masks around their chins or mouths, or if we’re lucky, their nose and mouths.”
Bookwalter said the Giro’s COVID-19 precautions were “not as strict as I would have expected or hoped.”
As news of Yates’ positive spread across the media, Giro d’Italia director Mauro Vegni went on television to quell fears that the race could be further impacted by the virus. Vegni said that Yates’ positive test was discovered by the Giro’s boosted testing protocols, which go above and beyond the UCI requirements.
The positive test, Vegni said, is a sign that the Giro’s boosted safety measures are working.
“Yates is the first case after 10 days. The early detection operations are working well, which is what made us able yesterday [Friday] night to check Yates’ positivity, and the negativity of everyone else on the Mitchelton team,” Vegni said on television. “If we had only had to follow the protocol established by the UCI, we should have taken the sample last night, send it to Milan overnight and wait for the result that would have happened tomorrow. So Yates could have run today, with the risk of infecting other riders.”
Vegni said that riders would undergo a round of COVID-19 tests following Sunday’s mountainous stage 9, and that the tests would be rushed to Milan to be processed during the opening rest day on Monday. Riders would know whether or not there are additional positives in the peloton prior to Tuesday’s stage 10.
Vegni noted that only an intervention by Italian authorities would stop the event.
Sciandri said he watched Vegni on television, and noted that the Giro boss looked “pretty nervous.”
“We just finished a race and I am trying to watch the news and get all of the information,” he said. “But a bubble is a bubble. You want to stay inside to be safe, but if something happens inside the bubble, well, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I say Mauro Vegni on TV and in my opinion, he looked pretty nervous.”
“Right now though, there is no conversation about the Giro making it to Milan. This just hit us. We have to get back to the hotel and see what’s what.”