There’s blowback from teams about the strict COVID-19 protocol being rolled out for the Tour de France that face possible expulsion if their “bubbles” become contaminated.
According to a report in L’Equipe, team managers will meet Tuesday via videoconference with Tour de France race officials to clarify health protocols ahead of the 107th edition, set to start August 29 in Nice.
As first reported in VeloNews last week, an 18-page document outlining health rules states that if teams reveal two positive cases of COVID-19 among staffers and riders from inside their respective “bubbles” — starting from August 26 through the end of the Tour in Paris — they face possible exclusion from the race.
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Race director Christian Prudhomme later clarified that policy to Reuters, saying that expulsion would only be likely if there are two cases within seven days.
That strict rule, however, is raising the alarm bells among teams, most of which have already invested tens of thousands of euros to unroll internal health protocols over the past several weeks.
“Excluding a team if two of its members test positive is a radical decision,” Jerome Pineau, manager of B&B Hotels-Vital Concept told L’Equipe. “If a mechanic or a bus driver is declared positive, without symptoms, I dare to hope they will be quarantined without stopping everything. Otherwise, I do not think much of the peloton will make it to Paris.”
Teams and riders also will be required to sign off on the health regulations, or they will not be able to participate.
According to L’Equipe, it appears that the Tour organization hardened some of the conditions of the rules after the initial plan was shared among teams at the start of the Critérium du Dauphiné. Teams are upset that they were not consulted about stricter rules, which includes the condition of possible expulsion for two or more cases among its staffers and riders.
Everyone entering the Tour “bubble” — including all riders, staffers, and sport directors, limited to 30 per team — already are required to present two negative COVID-19 controls in the days leading up to arrival in Nice.
One team official told VeloNews that while teams are doing everything possible to protect their bubbles, it’s impossible to control health conditions for contact with the general public at hotels, gas stations, and grocery stores or among fans and journalists attending each stage.
So far, Tour de France officials are insisting that fans and journalists will be allowed to attend each stage, albeit with limited access, a decision that only heightens the risk for everyone inside the Tour “bubble” system.
The tension over the health rules reveals just how high the stakes are for all the key stakeholders as the Tour de France looms at the same time as there is a growing uptick of COVID-19 cases across Europe.
There’s also been a recent increase of riders who are asymptomatic testing positive for COVID-19, only to see follow-up tests come back negative, raising new questions about the reliability of controls.