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Movistar director sportif denies reports that team pushed for Israel Start-Up Nation to exit race

Spanish director says entire peloton shares responsibility to protect the interests of the sport.

Movistar is denying reports in the Belgian media that its sport directors were pushing for Israel Start-Up Nation to be removed from the Vuelta a Burgos over doubts about possible contagion of COVID-19.

A Belgian newspaper reported that the Spanish team wanted the Israeli-backed team out of the Burgos in Tuesday’s stage after the team yanked two of its riders for having contact with another teammate who was not at the race but who had tested positive for COVID-19. Two riders — Alex Dowsett and Itamar Einhorn — did not race Tuesday in precautionary measures, and both later returned negative follow-up tests.

“It’s a false rumor,” said Movistar sport director Pablo Lastras. “No one from Movistar or from another team made any such move against another rival. I want to deny it outright. We never said anything or made any sort of movement in that direction.”

Sources, however, tell VeloNews that the Belgian report was not far off the mark. Israel Start-Up Nation was offered a chance to step out of the first stage while waiting for results, with the option of starting Wednesday’s second stage if everyone came back negative, sources said. UCI rules and organizers do not allow teams or riders to skip stages in a stage race.

The strong comments from Lastras reveal the underlying tension and stress this week as the peloton returns to racing for the first time since March. Teams and race organizers have invested tens of thousands of euros to comply with UCI-mandated rules to create safer racing conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The stakes are high for the entire peloton, and teams are trying to be as cautious as possible when managing the challenges of racing for the first time after months of lockdown.

Most teams publicly rallied around how Israel Start-Up Nation handled the situation of seeing one of its riders test positive — Omer Goldstein, who was not scheduled to race at Burgos — and how it followed up with its contact tracing. Dowsett, Einhorn, and the other Israel Start-Up Nation riders still in the race all later tested negative in follow-up controls conducted Monday.

“That’s very professional what they’ve done,” Ineos sport director Brett Lancaster told VeloNews. “It could happen to any one of us. I know Alex didn’t start, he was already negative before the race, and he was negative again, so good on them for taking action. Because if anyone takes any shortcuts, it spreads to the whole bunch.”

A similar situation unfolded Wednesday when UAE-Emirates pulled three of its riders before the start of stage 2 due to the risk of possible exposure to another cyclist not on the race who had later tested positive for COVID-19. Those three riders later tested negative in follow-up controls carried out Wednesday.

Lastras, meanwhile, said that it’s up to the peloton to work together to try to confront the challenges of racing under unprecedented conditions.

“I think everyone in the sport has and is following a good plan,” Lastras said Wednesday. “I think it would be interesting for people to really know what we’ve been doing … anti-body tests, COVID-19 tests … there are lines to follow for everyone on the teams, the organizers, the UCI. We are all subject to the rules of each government, not just the national level, but where we go to race.”

“I think that sport can be the ‘tip of the spear’ to make people realize how we can live with this new situation,” he said. “Social distancing, hygiene measures, safety … being examples for those of us in sport will make things better for everyone.”