NICE, France (VN) — It’s still two strikes and teams could be out of the Tour de France, but a late-hour compromise softened the strike zone.
New rules also spelled out that teams face expulsion only if two of their riders test positive with confirmed cases within one week. Staffers will not be counted.
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“The adjustments made today to the UCI protocol have enabled us to find the right balance between the legitimate concerns of teams faced with the risk of exclusion and the vital preservation of the peloton’s health,” UCI president David Lappartient said Friday. “All the protective measures respecting the rules such as wearing a mask in the hotels and buses must be scrupulously followed. We must give the Tour de France and the 2020 cycling season a chance to carry on to the end, and give our sport, heavily affected by the health crisis, a chance to move forward.”
The UCI released the update Friday, which includes follow-up tests when possible to confirm a possible positive COVID-19 infection.
Key stakeholders met hours before the start of the 2020 Tour to finalize rules outlining COVID-19 protocols. Following push-back from teams, a compromise was hammered out just 24 hours before the 2020 Tour starts under a cloud of uncertainty.
As reported in VeloNews last week, Tour de France officials initially wanted to kick out teams if they returned two positive cases at any time during the three-week Tour from anyone within their race “bubble” that includes up to 30 staffers and riders.
Friday’s compromise measure means that the expulsion rule will only be applied to riders who are positive within one week.
Under the new rules — which apply to all grand tours in 2020 — any rider or staffer testing positive for COVID-19 will undergo follow-up controls, if possible before the start of the next day’s stage, to confirm the case. If positive, they will be removed from the race and put into quarantine.
If a follow-up test cannot be carried out before racing resumes, rules will err on the side of safety, and the rider or staffer will still be out of the race.
A key distinction was made that the ultimate decisions about who might be in or out of a race will fall into the hands of a race medical panel that will be dependent on input from local and national health authorities.
A team could still be ejected from a race — a decision that will be left to the race organizer and medical staffers — if two riders on the same team test positive for confirmed cases within a week.
To be able to start the Tour, all riders and staffers in Nice have been required to test negative on two controls within the past five days, with some teams carrying out even more. Everyone in the entourage will be tested again on both of the Tour’s rest days.
According to an internal memo seen by VeloNews sent to teams by the AIGCP, a negative test on the heels of a positive test does not necessarily mean a rider will be able to continue to race.
Government health authorities and the medical team on the Tour will make the ultimate final decision.
Teams are also leaning heavily on their own staffers and riders to wear masks at all times before and after racing as outlined in an 18-page document handed to teams before the Tour. According to the memo, anyone seen not wearing a required mask will be considered a “direct contact” by local health authorities, which could lead to a 14-day quarantine and removal from the race.
The memo also said that if staffers or riders are captured in TV images or in photographs not following the medical protocol, especially not wearing required masks, it could open the door for the entire team to be considered in “direct contact,” and the entire team face the consequences if there is a positive on the team.
The final-hour adjustment comes just hours before the Tour starts in Nice, which was placed in a “red zone” status due to a recent spike in coronavirus contagions.
Teams and organizers alike are anxious to get the Tour show on the road. Rules mean fewer fans will be allowed to line the course or attend the starts and finishes during the opening three days of racing around the bustling port city on France’s sparkling Cote d’Azur.
Teams and organizers alike are worried that France’s health authorities might put the brakes on the race if contagions continue to spike. The Nice area is one of the worst-hit throughout France.