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Rally Cycling team doctors return to the frontlines

Three team doctors speak of their experiences working in North America's battle against coronavirus.

With no racing to keep them busy treating road rash, monitoring hydration, or sourcing medicine, Rally Cycling‘s team doctors have returned to the frontline to help fight the coronavirus.

Rally’s team of three medical staff, Kelby Bethards, Kristie Nicholls, and Mark Greve, have all swapped tending to professional bike racers to testing for COVID-19 and caring for those diagnosed with the condition.

Dr. Mark Greve has returned to work as an ER physician and professor of emergency medicine at Brown University in Rhode Island.

“It’s almost like combat medicine,” Greve said in a team release. “We’re working in a system that you’d normally never have to contemplate and you don’t know where the resources are. You can’t assume you’ll have access to all the things you normally would. And that includes personnel. So as a medical practitioner, you have to be able to operate autonomously.”

While cases have yet to spike in Rhode Island, their proximity to New York, which has seen over 350,000 cases of coronavirus, leaves doctors in Greve’s hospital waiting anxiously.

“Right now in Rhode Island, we’re on the front lines and everything’s quiet, but we need to make sure that we’re ready [for a surge in cases],” he said. “The endgame ultimately is having a vaccine and having antibody testing, but we don’t know when that’ll be.”

Dr. Kelby Bethards is the team’s medical director and is now based in Fort Collins, Colorado, and works in urgent care. Bethards was one of 14 doctors from various pro teams who wrote to the UCI to call for the cancelation of early-season races such as Paris-Nice and Strade Bianche when the pandemic first took hold this winter.

“It said, basically, ‘Look, this is dangerous. We don’t want cycling to be a vector for this thing. You need to either shut down these races or have a plan,’” Bethards explained. “Obviously we were just trying to keep our riders safe, as well as preventing the spread to people who are at more risk than the young, fit athletes who are – comparatively – more resilient to the virus.”

“A bike race is a traveling circus where you have 130 riders from 30 different countries all roll in and stay in the same hotel,” Bethards said. “We all eat in the same dining hall. We all hang out together and then we go on to our next race.”

Dr. Kristie Nicholls is a family doctor and was providing telemedicine services even before the pandemic took hold. Since the coronavirus spread in North America, she has been called on to work in more and more states to help fill the shortage of expertise in the area. Despite being officially licensed in four states, she is currently working with patients from 14, from Alaska to Florida.

In a bid to ease the stress of her day job, Nicholls has been trying to spend as much time out in the fresh air as possible, tending to her garden and riding on Zwift.

In Fort Collins, Bethards has been receiving some more unusual requests for advice.

“The bike shops here in town have even got a hold of me because they know I’m a team physician,” he said. “‘Hey, what do you think of my sterile process for working on bikes? We wash it down with bleach and we do this, and we do that.’ I just tell them, ‘don’t drink the bleach and you’ll be fine.’”