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Tour de France

Tadej Pogačar defends team COVID protocol after two more positives: ‘We take really good precautions’

Pogačar points to huge crowds and mass contacts as problem after Bennett, Majka tested positive Tuesday.

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MEGÈVE, France (VN) – Tadej Pogačar finished stage 10 of the Tour de France safe in the yellow jersey Tuesday, putting a cap on a day that saw the return of a far bigger threat than what Jonas Vingegaard might ever hope to pose to his title defense.

Pogačar has just five teammates to count on for the next 10 days of the race after top climber George Bennett popped a COVID positive Tuesday and Vegard Stake Laengen left with coronavirus several days before.

With Rafal Majka also positive but staying on the race without symptoms, Pogačar insists the UAE bubble hasn’t burst as it heads to the mountains.

“In our team we take really good precautions, we keep hygiene really high and we’re alone in the rooms. We try to be alone as possible as much as we can,” he told the press after the stage Tuesday.

“It’s really bad we had another one that had to leave, both George and Vegard were high risk, they never had COVID before so I hope the other guys will be OK.”

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This year is the first Tour of Pogačar’s career not marked by empty roads or governed by the highest level of testing. Crowds are out in force and masks are mostly a memory.

“We are quite isolated all the time, but the problem is it’s unlucky we’re racing amongst so many people, with big crowds on the climbs,” Pogačar told the press. “We’re close contacts with so many people out on the road.”

The wider threat of a living breathing, bunch, of bike racers that has seen positives among a number of teams will remain.

The loss of Bennett and question marks over Majka will pile the pressure onto UAE’s collective in high mountains to come.

Pogačar hinted that the team wanted to ease the pressure-valve with a tactical pass of the yellow jersey to breakaway rider Lennard Kämna on Tuesday’s stage to the Megeve altiport.

Kämna swung in and out of the “virtual” lead of the race only to see the tactical horseplay in the break leave him 11 seconds shy of a maybe-gifted maillot jaune.

“The pace was not necessarily full hard [in the bunch],” Pogačar said. “I knew this climb and it was nothing special so we dropped the pace, but it was in the end that we kept the jersey for a few seconds which was also good.”

Just like COVID, the yellow jersey is proving hard to get rid of for UAE Emirates.