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Boivin on Paris-Nice: ‘Safety-wise there is no problem’

Guillaume Boivin confident of riders' own health at Paris-Nice, though he and others fear measures to prevent spread of virus around general public could put long-term stopper on racing.

Riders at Paris-Nice this week are actors in what’s a bit of an experiment of how to hold a bike race under the veil of the coronavirus scare.

Paris-Nice organizers have taken extra measures to limit the threat of contagion by keeping riders away from the public and separated from journalists. This week, French authorities put the brakes on packing in fans at starts and finishes, but so far have allowed the race to be contested.

So how do riders inside the race feel about it? Guillaume Boivin (Israel Start-Up Nation), speaking to VeloNews before Wednesday’s time trial, said racers in the peloton don’t feel any more susceptible to catching the coronavirus than if they were not racing.

“We have as much chance to catch it here as if we were at home,” Boivin told VeloNews. “Safety-wise there is no problem from our side. It’s more about trying to prevent the virus from spreading around the country. It’s something bigger than cycling.”

That’s not stopping some riders to take a rather bleak view of Paris-Nice. Belgian papers quoted Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) as saying that “90 percent” of the peloton doesn’t believe the race will make it to the French Riviera.

On Wednesday, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) told Het Laatste Nieuws some believe Paris-Nice could be the last race of the year.

“We have to consider these might be the last racing days of the year,” the Belgian star said. “We will be heading south in the coming days. The weather is better there, making it easier for people to go outside. It is possible that the organization says: we will stop. Maybe we will make it to the fifth stage, but nothing more.”

Internally, teams seem to have adjusted quickly to the new reality of racing under the veil of the coronavirus. Riders have gone about their normal business of racing their bikes, and during the opening three stages of Paris-Nice have delivered exciting action on the road.

Even before the recent spike in cases, top WorldTour teams have always been sensitive to the threat of infection and flu-like symptoms spreading among riders packed into team buses and hotels. Washing and carefully preparing food as well as keeping shared spaces sanitized was a priority long before anyone had heard of coronavirus. Israel Start-Up Nation took all these factors into consideration in taking its decision to race this week.

“We are doing our max to prevent it. We’ve always taken those measures,” Boivin said. “We are already so vulnerable, so for us, staying healthy is always a challenge especially this time of year. We always take maximum precaution. If a staff or rider has a flu, they would be in isolation anyway. For us health is always a major focus, and we try to make sure everyone is healthy.”

The Canadian said the uncertainty of the unfolding events makes it difficult to plan too far ahead. Riders are hoping Paris-Nice can conclude without disruption Sunday on France’s Cote d’Azur, and then everyone’s attention will turn to the northern classics.

“Everyone is worried when you see the situation in Italy. Every day is changing. There is not much we can do about it,” Boivin said. “It’s the government that makes the final decision. I just hope in general we can grab control of this situation for everyone’s sake, and if that’s the case, we can race the classics.”