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The news Saturday morning that the team’s GC leader Simon Yates had tested positive for COVID-19 came as a shock to the cycling world, and equally so to his Australian team.
36 hours after Yates reported mild symptoms of illness and later tested positive for coronavirus, White and his team are still scratching their heads as to how their COVID-secure bubble has been burst.
“He hasn’t been out partying that’s for sure,” White told VeloNews on Sunday morning.
“Simon’s been in lockdown, preparing especially for this race. He chose not to go to the world championships, just so he could stay in his home environment and come in, ready to win the Giro. He could have picked up COVID at home and incubated it and brought it in, or he could have caught it anywhere from when he’s arrived in Sicily, to up to 12 hours before he went positive … Nobody knows. Nobody knows.”
The loss of the British climber was the latest blow for a squad that has also lost veteran US rider Brent Bookwalter and young Italian Eduardo Affini due to injuries. The team’s five remaining riders are now battening down the hatches and preparing to see out the remaining 12 stages of the race.
“The team is in a situation where we’ve had multiple negative tests,” White said in a telephone interview. “In general, our guys are just carrying on and focusing on what they can focus on and that’s racing.”
While no one knows how Mitchelton-Scott’s secure bubble was burst to allow Yates’ case of COVID, White is confident in the health of his remaining riders and remains cautiously optimistic for the Giro making it to Milan. With the peloton bracing ahead of the first rest day’s mandatory health checks, White has no worries for his team.
“As far as testing, we’ve been tested now for a third night in a row,” he said. “People in our organization have been tested five times in the last 11-12 days [including twice before the race started]. There’s not too many people on the planet that have been tested as much as we have.”
Yates was the first rider from a grand tour to test positive for coronavirus. Last month, the Tour de France managed to make it to Paris without the ejection of any members of the peloton due to COVID as it subjected riders to batteries of tests, limited crowd access, and minimized media presence.
While the Giro is operating nearly all the same policies as those adopted at the Tour, some elements have been relaxed, including ASO’s fierce ‘two strikes’ rule.
Some insiders from the race, including American stalwart Bookwalter, have suggested that health controls at the race are not as robust as they would like, citing hotels in the opening stages through Sicily as being busy with holidaymakers elbowing for space at the buffet.
White acknowledged that accommodation at the race’s opening stages were packed out with several teams and scores of tourists, but remains confident that Giro organizers RCS Sport are doing all it can to keep the race secure.
“It’s different hotel to hotel,” White said.
“The hotel we’re staying at the moment we’re with Quick-Step I haven’t seen anyone else except the two teams,” he continued. “We have no absolutely no contacts, even with Quick-Step, so it’s perfect. But it wasn’t perfect at the Tour de France either. There were hotels there where we also had to share with the general public.”
COVID is back on the rampage in northern Europe, with hotspots in France leading to the shuttering of Paris-Roubaix at the end of this week and riders slated to race at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday withdrawing due to positive tests.
Nonetheless, White remains hopeful he’ll be seeing Milano in two weeks time.
“I can’t see why we won’t complete the race,” he said. “A lot will depend on what happens with the results from the peloton in the next 48 hours. But there’s no reason why the race won’t continue. There’s nothing that we can control but keeping our bubble as tight as possible and carrying on day by day.”