The UCI has published its tome on maintaining health and safety through the restarted season, but for some, it’s not enough.
Trek-Segafredo, home of the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini, and U.S. national champion Ruth Winder, has implemented a range of its own additional measures to keep coronavirus at bay atop of the governing body’s measures, which team doctors fear has its weaknesses.
“I believe that the UCI has chosen a complicated way to ensure risk prevention,” said team head physician Dr. Gaetano Daniele.
The UCI’s guidelines impose a number of measures upon teams, from the creation of segregated rider-staff “bubbles” to the need to clear two pre-race screenings for COVID-19 before racing. Rider unions and team staffers have warned that the criteria impose significant logistical and financial burdens on teams and could see them scrambling to send squads to race through the packed August-October calendar.
Daniele highlights the choice of local rather than centrally-managed testing as a source of concern.
“The swab tests … will sometimes require an extreme, exaggerated effort to ensure compliance,” he said. “We all agree that these are necessary. However, the choice to not set up a single structure able to cover the testing for all teams just before the races and to entrust that to private and public local health facilities, with restrictions on access and operation, is not optimal in my opinion.”
Just this week, three teams were forced to sit out the Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa due to the late completion of COVID tests administered by local universities. Trek-Segafredo entered their team as planned, netting top-1o finishes with Deignan and Longo Borghini.
Trek-Segafredo and Daniele’s medical team has installed a range of its own additional measures atop of the UCI’s protocol in the bid to protect its riders. Needless to say, the go-to measures of social distancing and hand hygiene have become a mantra.
“Since the season was put on hold in March, it has been an arduous process to define a protection protocol to minimize the risks of infection and race with as much serenity as possible,” Daniele said.
“We have given everyone a refillable sanitizer spray and two washable masks, created by Santini, as well as having sanitizer dispensers in every vehicle,” he continued. “We have eliminated the ‘food room’ for riders’ snacks at the end of the races, which was normally in the room of a soigneur. We have imposed daily sanitization of all vehicles and limited access to the bus to a limited number of people.”
The withdrawal of teams from Thursday’s Spanish race amid wider fears of sub-par safety measures at the event served as a stark warning that combating COVID is something that teams and administrators are not taking lightly. Daniele is aware that while the whole peloton is united in wanting to safely return to racing after four months of pause, managing the task amid the whirlwind of a full-gas season is another matter.
“For our part, as Trek-Segafredo, we are satisfied and confident in our actions,” he said. “The hope is that the same will happen in every facet of the sport.”
“Although in many countries the COVID-19 emergency has been reduced in size, the virus has not disappeared. We must all be aware of this and act together. If every component – teams, UCI, and organizers – do their part, we will have the conditions to finish the season smoothly.
“The rules have been written, the protocols drawn up, now comes the most difficult part: putting them into practice.”