Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia taking different approach to COVID challenges

Worries grow about pandemic — and weather impacting alpine stages — in the second half of the race.

The Giro d’Italia starts Saturday and almost no one is talking about COVID-19.

After a few tense weeks at the Tour de France that was contested under strict health regulations, the peloton rolls into Italy this weekend for the season’s second grand tour with a lot less stress.

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Why? The Giro d’Italia won’t be threatening to kick any teams out of the race.

Giro boss Mauro Vegni confirmed last month that organizers will not apply the Tour’s tough “two strikes and out” policy during the next three weeks.

“I won’t apply the rule. If there is a positive case, the person will be put into isolation according to the health protocol,” Vegni told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “We will do tests, but we won’t kick out the team. We will be protecting the health of everyone, but I’m not going to cancel out a team’s work of preparing for a big event.”

Last month’s Tour was raced under extreme tension as teams faced the risk of possible expulsion if two riders or staffers tested positive for COVID-19. During the first round of testing, four teams saw individual staffers testing positive, putting the entire team in danger. Eventually, everyone made it to Paris without expulsions, but there was an underlying tension throughout the race.

The Giro won’t impose such drastic measures, but vows to assure the safety of riders, organizers, and the public along the three-week route entirely within Italian borders.

Many of the same rules that the peloton followed at the Tour still apply at the Italian grand tour, including “race bubbles,” pre-race and rest-day COVID screenings, social distancing, limited crowds, media mixed zones, and restricted podium protocols at starts and finishes.

If riders or staffers do test positive for COVID-19 during the Giro, the team won’t be paying the price. Instead, anyone testing positive will be removed from the race caravan, and the remainder of team can continue to race.

Following the protocol spelled out by the UCI earlier this season, all riders and staffers were required to pass two COVID controls before being allowed to enter the Giro caravan. Riders were tested again in Italy for antigens ahead of Saturday’s start, with further checks on the Giro’s two rest days, organizers confirmed.

An antigen test sample can be analyzed quickly and easily, which reduces delays. A positive result will lead to a follow-up test, where results take longer. The method will be repeated during the two rest days on October 12 and 19, organizers confirmed to AFP.

Matt White, sport director at Mitchelton-Scott, expressed optimism that the Giro will arrive in Milano on October 25 without incident. While cases are spiking in nearby France and Spain, the health situation in Italy remains relatively stable.

“I’m not afraid at all. Italy is one of the safest countries in Europe to be racing right now,” White said Friday. “The measures we took at the Tour de France were quite extreme, but it showed when the ‘bubble’ is respected by the teams, it works. There is no reason we cannot finish the Giro in Milan.

“All the teams have been very vigilant to assure the health of our riders since we came back to racing,” White said. “Our biggest concern is the general public, at the hotels, if they’re wearing a mask, giving the riders space. If they respect what we do, there is no reason we cannot complete the Giro and have another successful race.”

Perhaps more so than the Tour, the Giro has been more severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers were forced to ditch its “Big Start” in Budapest and reconfigure the opening stages to remain within Italy. The start was moved to Sicily, where new stages were added to make up for the lost stages in Hungary.

Like the Tour, the Giro was also forced to reschedule, moving from its traditional spot as the season’s first grand tour in May until a later date in October. While the Tour was still contested in summer-like conditions in September, there are growing concerns at the Giro about weather blocking or forcing cancelation stages in the Alps in the second half of the race.

White expressed hope that organizers will respond quickly and with transparency if any sort of rerouting or cancelations might be required if the weather turns for the worse.

“No one can control the weather,” White said. “If stages need to be halted, it’s important that teams have the ability to plan for that. In the past, stages have been tried to be adjusted on the run or during the stage. Now we can make a clear decision for the riders’ health and still have the race. I’m afraid of bad weather, as long as information is communicated clearly. Every team has to adapt.”

Images last week of the snowbound Passo dello Stelvio, which the Giro route passes over in stage 18, had everyone talking about a possible repeat of the famous 1988 Giro won by Andy Hampsten who battled in winter conditions in a decisive stage over the nearby Passo di Gavia.

So far, it’s been weather and the looming GC battle that people are talking about, not COVID-19.

Everyone’s hoping that things stay that way for the next three weeks.