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Tour de France

Tour de France: Tadej Pogačar loses key helper George Bennett, Rafal Majka continues despite diagnosis

UPDATED: UAE Team Emirates sees its second rider leave the Tour de France with COVID-19, Majka positive but stays for now.

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Yellow jersey Tadej Pogačar loses another key helper Tuesday after George Bennett will leave the Tour de France with a COVID-19 diagnosis, UAE Team Emirates team officials confirmed.

Team officials later confirmed that veteran helper Rafal Majka is also touched by the virus, but will remain in the race.

“As per our internal protocols Rafal Majka was tested for COVID-19 and returned a positive result [Tuesday] morning. He is asymptomatic and analysing his PCR found he had a very low risk of infectivity, similar to the case of Bob Jungels earlier in the race,” said Dr. Adrian Rotunno, the team’s medical director.

“As per protocol we reported it to the UCI medical team this morning, who granted Rafal permission to take the start just prior to race departure. We are aware Rafal’s clinical picture and are closely monitoring his situation.”

The announcements are a blow for the two-time defending champion, whose team now is down two riders due to the coronavirus. Vegard Stake Laengen was forced to leave the race last week.

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The New Zealander climber was expected to provide additional firepower for Pogačar in the climb-heavy back half of the 2022 Tour.

So far, Majka has been Pogačar’s best teammate in the Tour’s early mountains. If he is ill, Pogačar’s flank could be open to attacks from rivals in the three upcoming mountain stages in the Alps capped by a return to Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.

Team officials confirmed the news moments before the start of Tuesday’s 10th stage.

Here is the team statement:

Sadly our rider George Bennett tested positive for COVID-19 and will not continue today in the Tour de France.

“On Monday he was tested as per internal protocols of the team and returned a positive result. This was confirmed by a PCR test.

“Dr.Adrian Rotunno (Medical Director):

‘On Monday night George displayed some symptoms and per our protocol he was tested for COVID-19 and returned a positive result. Therefore he will not start today.‘”

According to the UCI, all Tour riders remaining in the race cleared health controls following Sunday’s stage.

The UCI used swab tests on Sunday evening, and would have required the more accurate PCR tests as follow-up controls if anyone had tested positive.

Since then, Bennett joins Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange-Jayco) as the second rider to leave the Tour with COVID-19.

Also Tuesday, the Tour organization closed off the team bus paddock area to media and other unnecessary personnel at each day’s start area going forward.

“Only the representatives of the Union Cycliste Internationale (jury, commissaires, anti-doping), the teams’ staff and the organization’s personnel supervising the teams will have access to the paddock,” a statement read.