Additional testing helps Team Sunweb catch COVID-19 positive before Tour de l’Ain

A staff member tested positive after Team Sunweb conducted additional tests of staff and riders ahead of the French 2.1 race Tour de l'Ain.

A staff member with the WorldTour squad Team Sunweb has tested positive for COVID-19, and the team discovered the positive by performing additional tests than what is required by the UCI.

The squad announced the news on Tuesday afternoon, and did not disclose the name of the staffer.

“Although he was ill, he showed no COVID-specific symptoms and did not qualify for regular testing outside of these cycling-specific protocols,” the team said in a statement. “Our medical team will continue to monitor the situation and determine when he can return to competitions or team camps.”

According to the squad, the staffer in question has not been in contact with any riders or other team members “in recent months,” and that he is now in isolation at his home. The staffer was slated to travel to the Tour de l’Ain stage race in France, which begins on Friday.

He will not accompany the team to the race.

The team discovered his COVID-19 positive after he underwent a mandatory nasal swab test which was administered six days prior to the race start of the Tour de l’Ain, which holds UCI 2.1 status. The UCI guidelines for COVID-19 precautions at Class 1 and Class 2 events, published on July 28, requires swab tests to be carried out no more than 72 hours in advance of stage races. Teams are asked to conduct health checks, including a clinical suspicion questionnaire, five days in advance of a stage race.

Sunweb says it is testing riders and staff at six- and three-day intervals before all pro races, even lower-tier events like the Tour de l’Ain. That level of testing is required for WorldTour and ProSeries events.

The news marks the latest example of teams taking precautions around COVID-19 during the return to racing. Last week Team Israel Start-Up Nation sent two riders home prior to the start of the Vuelta a Burgos after management learned that both riders had been in contact with a teammate who tested positive for the virus. UAE-Team Emirates then sent three riders home after management learned that all three had been in contact with someone who tested positive.

All five riders eventually returned negative tests for the virus.

Sunweb management said it released the information on its staffer to “avoid inaccurate stories and maintain transparency” around the sensitivity of the ongoing COVID-19 storyline in pro cycling.

“Although the UCI calls for one test, three days ahead of non-WorldTour and non-ProSeries races, we are in favor of maintaining the same testing requirements that are in place for WorldTour races,” the team said. “We have and will continue to operate with two PCR tests – at six days and three days before the race start – to keep our bubble safe.”