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POITIERS, France (VN) — Four teams enter the second week of the Tour de France with “yellow cards” in a race marked by COVID-19.
Things seemed normal in Wednesday’s 11th stage ending with a thrilling bunch sprint, but there are nerves behind the scenes as four teams face possible expulsion after staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-race controls carried out Sunday and Monday.
The Tour de France dodged a bullet Tuesday when none of the racers in the peloton tested positive for COVID-19 as part of required health screenings.
Yet four staffers from four different teams, as well as Tour director Christian Prudhomme, were sent off the race Tuesday after testing positive.
Those four teams — Cofidis, Ag2r-La Mondiale, Ineos Grenadiers, and Mitchelton-Scott — now have one strike against them in what will be a tense week before the next round of testing in Grenoble set to coincide with the Tour’s second rest day on September 14.
Under Tour rules, if two members of a team’s 30-person bubble test positive for COVID-19 within a seven-day period, the team could be ejected from the race.
Teams were being tight-lipped Wednesday about details of when staffers were tested, or what their jobs were inside the squad. One team said one infected person was put into isolation and later left the race.
Prudhomme, who was not technically part of the Tour’s most strictly controlled bubble, also left the race for eight days and might return if he clears a new round of health checks.
Riders were not keen to talk about the COVID-19 protocols Wednesday morning. Some said they were told by teams not to talk to the media.
“No one in the peloton didn’t have in their mind that they could have been out of the race,” said Sunweb’s Nicholas Roche. “We didn’t know what was happening until Tuesday morning. A doctor knocked on my door at 10:15, and that was worrisome, but he said he was coming around telling us the good news we were OK.”
The four teams that popped for one COVID case represent the top of the GC in the 2020 Tour, and the race would be turned upside down if any one of them were removed.
Defending champion Bernal is second overall, with Cofidis rider Guillaume Martin in third, and Bardet in fourth. Adam Yates, who held the yellow jersey for three days, is in eighth.
With so much at stake, there is also some confusion about how rules might be applied.
The first round of tests were carried out in split shifts Sunday and Monday, and the second round of testing is expected to be split as well. If one of the infected staffers tested positive Monday, and someone else tests positive this coming Sunday, technically, it could trigger the two-strike rule.
It’s unclear if health authorities will reset the testing “scoreboard” to coincide with the second rest day, or if authorities will hold the four teams down to the exact day and hour that coincide with the previous positive cases.
Though the next tests do not come until the Tour’s second rest day, that doesn’t mean there can’t be more tests this week.
Under health protocols outlined before the race, if anyone within a team’s bubble shows symptoms as part of twice-daily health check-ups, more tests would be required.