Giro d'Italia

Shock of Simon Yates’ COVID-19 positive subsides as Giro d’Italia peloton returns to racing

VeloNews spoke to riders and team directors prior to Sunday's stage 9, and the sources expressed a common sentiment for the race to continue to Milan.

The shock felt by riders and team officials at the Giro d’Italia following Saturday’s revelation that Simon Yates had recorded a positive test for COVID-19 had simmered by Sunday afternoon.

VeloNews spoke to multiple riders and team officials prior to Sunday’s stage 9. While these sources expressed different feelings surrounding the news, the reoccurring sentiment was a desire for teams and riders to maintain their health and safety standards, as well as hope that the race reaches its finish in Milan.

“It was definitely a big eye opener — it’s surprising but also not surprising,” said American Lawson Craddock. “It was reaffirmation that we need to stay on top of everything. It’s probably around us and you just gotta take the right precautions in order to be safe.”

Bjarne Riis of NTT Pro Cycling expressed confidence that riders and teams are doing an adequate job of protecting themselves during the event.

“The teams and riders are doing the right thing to not get the virus,” Riis said. “At the end of the day, of course, you never really know. Nothing is absolute.”

On Saturday morning news circulated that Yates had left the Giro d’Italia after recording a positive COVID-19 test on Friday evening. The news came as a surprise, as Yates and his Mitchelton-Scott teammates had operated inside of a ‘bubble’ per UCI guidelines prior to the race and throughout the opening week of the event.

In a phone interview on Sunday morning, Mitchelton-Scott director Matt White said that the team had yet to determine just how the British rider contracted the virus in lieu of his precautions.

“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,” White said. “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.”

Throughout the race’s mixed zone other riders and team directors asked similar questions about how Yates could have come into contact with the virus, despite the precautions. Cedric Vasseur, manager of Cofidis Crédits Solutions, said that the positive test is confirmation that no COVID-19 strategy is 100 percent failsafe.

“It will never be absolutely [failsafe] or else we have no more normal life. We have to be happy with the restrictions and we have to follow them,” Vasseur said. “Still, that doesn’t give us 100 percent guarantee because it is not possible. If you want a 100 percent guaranteed bubble, then there is no race.”

Vasseur said his team’s COVID-19 safety protocols during and throughout the Giro d’Italia were similar to those followed before and during the Tour de France. Like his riders, Vasseur underwent a PCS test six and then three days prior to the Giro’s start in Sicily. He has worn a face mask throughout the race, and he has kept his distance from both fans and media.

“We hare happy that the season is already almost over,” Vasseur said. “We are focused on 2021 because this year was a nightmare.”

Riis echoed Vassuer’s sentiment that the Giro d’Italia’s COVID-19 precautions are similar to what he experienced at the Tour de France. Riis said he continues to wear a mask in the team car, even if he personally believes that the rule is more of a nuisance than a help.

Still, Riis expressed doubt that any race can be 100 percent safe, due to the nature of how riders live off of the bicycle.

“You can touch something that somebody has touched, and that’s it,” he said.

Indeed, Craddock echoed a sentiment shared by Brent Bookwalter earlier in the week, that the Giro d’Italia’s hotel policy does place riders in contact with the general public. Under the UCI’s rules for COVID-19 safety, race organizers must organize hotel stays so that teams can ensure a ‘life bubble’ throughout the event.

“Each team will be grouped on a single floor (or a wing of the hotel), with a reserved and independent dining room,” reads the UCI rulebook on COVID-19 safety. “The staff of each hotel must be informed of individual preventive measures (room cleaning, physical distancing, hand washing, wearing a mask during service, etc.). The LOC will ensure that hotel staff abide by the rules in force for cleaning and disinfecting furniture and objects in the context of the pandemic.”

Craddock said that the Giro’s accommodations have placed riders into contact with the general public, and that not every hotel has provided a separate room for dining for riders.

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no — we’re still using the same elevators, walking up the same stair, and opening the same doors that everyone else is,” Craddock said. “It’s frustrating that [COVID-19] enters the peloton, but I’m not that surprised.”