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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia roundtable: What do we want to know about the Simon Yates COVID case?

We deconstruct the dramas of the day, from the shock exit of Simon Yates to the potentially career-altering victory of Alex Dowsett.

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British stalwart Alex Dowsett took the eighth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday, grabbing a victory that could prove pivotal in his career. The 32-year-old’s contract with Israel Start-Up Nation expires at the end of the season, and he is still yet to ink a new deal to ensure his future.

Behind Dowsett, the GC contenders took an easy day in the bunch as a big mountain stage looms on the horizon Sunday. Stage 9 into Roccaraso is stacked with ascent and came only as a late addition to the race after RCS Sport redesigned the first half of their race to accommodate the closure of the planned Budapest Grande Partenza.

Perhaps the biggest news of the day was the exit of Simon Yates from the race. The British GC man tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday night and so has been quarantined.

From COVID to career considerations, it’s time for some takes on Saturday’s action. Let’s roundtable!

Simon Yates has left the race after testing positive for COVID-19. What is the biggest unanswered question you have about this story?

Fred Dreier (@freddreier): My biggest question and concern is how the guy managed to catch it. We’ve been told again and again that these “bubble” systems are impenetrable, and that the riders are only coming into contact with teammates and team staff during the race setting. That obviously isn’t the case — Yates must have caught it from someone at some point during this race. So, how did the bubble system fail, and what can the sport learn from it? Earlier this week we heard from Yates’ teammate Brent Bookwalter on the VeloNews Podcast that he felt the Giro’s safety bubble was lacking, and that the riders were staying in hotels in Sicily that had lots of other guests. If that’s the case, and if that’s how Yates caught COVID-19, then the Giro should be held accountable for the failure of the system.

James Startt:  How did he get it? The bubbles are tight here. I was speaking with an AG2R-La Mondiale staffer at the finish Saturday and he said that the two teams shared a hotel just last night but they never saw each other. I’ve been to the Tour and I’ve been to the Giro and I find the protocol very comparable – they really keep you in your bubble here. I can’t even go say hello to a TV journalist at the start as it is not part of my zone…so you really have to wonder how Yates got it. But you have to remember that these bubbles are not fireproof. They are a very serious attempt to keep people and groups separated but they are not an absolute guarantee…. There are no guarantees with COVID-19.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): There are so many questions that are to be answered.  While I’d be very keen to know whether the Mitchelton-Scott bubble has been broken at both the Giro and the preceding Tirreno-Adriatico, my main question is whether Yates has been carrying the infection for a number of days. If he’s been positive for a length of time but not known it, there could be handfuls of other cases in the peloton. Monday’s COVID testing could throw up some nasty surprises.

Sunday’s mountainous stage 9 to Roccaraso is one of the stages that Giro organizers had to develop on the fly after COVID-19 torpedoed the race’s start in Hungary. Under the original course design it was a hilly stage. How does this stage change the feel of this year’s Giro?

Stage 9 could see some major GC moves.

Jim: Sunday’s mountain stage is a bona fide brute, and is sure to see some fireworks in the GC. That unrelentingly lumpy terrain is the kind of parcours that will either catch out a GC rider with bad legs after a tough opening week, or could see a team taking the initiative and going off the front. There are only 45 seconds between second and 11th place on GC and riders will be looking for the opportunity to go into Monday’s rest day with some morale-boosting momentum. This opening week could have gotten a little stale if it ended with a run-of-the-mill hilly day if it didn’t invite aggressive racing.

Fred: I don’t think that stage 9 crowns the overall champion, but it does pack a really challenging day into the opening of this race. Thus, I think the biggest impact it has on the race at large is to suck valuable strength from the GC riders and teams at an early point in the race. Whatever happens in week three will be impacted by tomorrow’s stage. If some GC star wilts in the final stages, we can trace that back to the brutal slog across the mountains in week one.

James: There is a lot of anticipation that this will be a real test, not an absolute decisive winner-takes-all stage, but a telling stage. And it breaks up the monotony of the second week of racing here, which is really very largely flat. These climbs are often covered in the Tirreno-Adriatico race in the springtime, and Giro race director Mauro Vegni was the longtime director of Tirreno, so he knows the roads well.

How could Alex Dowsett’s stage 8 victory change the trajectory of his career?

Fred: Dowsett’s biggest victories have come in individual time trials, which has understandably painted him as a TT specialist. Winning a road stage of the Giro d’Italia raises his stock because it proves he can win big, important road races too. Does this add another zero to his next contract? Probably not — but, it could ensure that there is a next contract. Dowsett is already 32, which is hardly old, but means he’s closer to the end than the beginning. With the WorldTour set to contract, and him without a contract, having a big and important stage victory could extend his career.

James: Well for starters, it could help him find a job! Currently he doesn’t have a contract for next year and it is not sure that with the arrival of Chris Froome and the many changes on Israel Start-Up Nation team next year that there is going to a space for him. But a stage win in the Giro is almost a guarantee that he will! At the finish, Niki Sorensen said flatly, “Hire the guy! He is a great rider!”

Jim: It could save it altogether. The Brit has been a long time without a big win after a fruitful start to his career, and with teams under the squeeze after the COVID pandemic, the Dowsett’s chances of securing a team for 2021 could have been limited. This victory puts him back in the spotlight at just the right time, and proved he’s more than a one-dimensional TT guy. Israel Start-Up Nation has money to spend and is looking to invest in a squad to back Chris Froome; I could see Dowsett being extended there.