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A swath of illness and injury has seen the Paris-Nice peloton drastically cut down ahead of the first major mountain stage.
Some 18 riders called it quits overnight, including almost the entire Israel-Premier Tech squad and white jersey wearer Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost).
James Piccoli and Carl Fredrik Hagen pulled out due to “non-Covid viral symptoms” while the team said that Tom Van Asbroeck had the “early signs of a respiratory infection.”
Hugo Houle is the last man standing for the Israeli team and he had to do the pre-stage team presentation alone.
“It’s strange for me,” he told VeloNews. “It is bad luck. From day one we lost Rudy Barbier with stomach problems and then Mads Würtz was not feeling well, and Guillaume Boivin had a back injury.
“Yesterday we had two guys wake up with a sickness. James and Carl seem to have the same thing, they are rooming together. It’s not Covid, but something is wrong, and then this morning Van Asbroeck had some problems, so he decided to retire. I woke up and I was feeling good so I will keep going on. Luckily, I was in a room on my own, so it probably helped to keep me away from those things.”
👍 from @HugoHoule who was in pole position at the start line.
He’s also rocking a hairstyle we hear works pretty well for some riders 😉
A good sign for today?
— Israel – Premier Tech / Israel Cycling Academy (@IsraelPremTech) March 10, 2022
Respiratory illnesses appear to be the issue with many, though no teams have confirmed a COVID-19 positive.
There’ll be no white jersey in the peloton after Bissegger retired from the race after he fell sick Wednesday. The Swiss time trialist finished 21 seconds off stage 4 TT winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
Bahrain-Victorious’ Gino Mäder pulled out with an “upper respiratory tract infection,” while Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) quit with sinusitis. Ag2r-Citroën said that Clément Champoussin was suffering from flu, while Kevin Vermaerke (DSM) and Amaury Capiot (Arkéa-Samsic) dropped out due to “sickness.”
There were some crash-related reasons among Thursday’s non-starters with Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) dropping out with “symptoms of post-concussive syndrome” following a crash on stage 2.
Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange) was also still feeling the impact of a crash on the crosswinds-affected stage 2 and pulled out of the race.
Meanwhile, Alpecin Fenix’s Jonas Rickaert said that he was abandoning the race due to a “sleepy feeling” in his left leg for the last three days. He is returning home to have a scan performed on his lower back in an effort to find the cause of the problem.
The full list of abandons is: Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Amaury Caoit (Arkéa-Samsic), Gino Mäder (Bahrain-Victorious), Matteo Trentin (USE Team Emirates), Clément Champoussin (AG2R Citroën), Yves Lampaert and Zdeněk Štybar (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Dylvan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco), Kavin Vermaercke (DSM), Stefan Bissegger, Jens Keukeleire and Nielson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), Carl Fredrik Hagen, James Piccoli and Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel-Premier Tech), Jones Rickaert, Kristian Sbragli and Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix).
The departure of 18 riders overnight leaves the peloton at 126 riders, which is one fewer than finished the 2021 race. The peloton faces its first major mountain test on stage 5, with a stage from Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert to Saint-Sauveur-de-Montagut.