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‘We’re being held against our will’ – Three teams remain in lockdown in UAE

Riders are losing valuable training time as more questions than answers remain in the wake of the UAE Tour coronavirus crisis.

Three teams remain quarantined in hotels in Yas Island Abu Dhabi as the UAE Tour coronavirus scare continues.

As of Tuesday morning, riders and staff from Groupama-FDJ, Cofidis, and Gazprom Rusvelo remain in lockdown in one hotel in the UAE, waiting on results from coronavirus tests. UAE-Team Emirates are also in quarantine are electing to impose their own 14-day detention.

All members of the media that attended the race have already been released following a quarantine period in a nearby hotel.

With riders and team staff held in lockdown, authorities requiring repeated tests for the virus, and a series of conflicting communications, more questions than answers remain in a situation shrouded in uncertainty.

“It’s ludicrous,” said Cofidis boss Thierry Vittu told told LeMonde on Tuesday. “Being held against our will, in a place where we do not want to be, for an indefinite period, is very much like taking hostages. This is even the exact definition. ”

Although the remaining 16 teams that raced the curtailed UAE Tour have been released from hotels, sources have told VeloNews that some team staff were subsequently placed in quarantine in other countries. Despite testing negative in the UAE and being cleared to leave the country, authorities later pulled them up at their travel destination and demanded further testing and quarantine. The final test has since given them the all-clear.

Teams, staff, and media that attended UAE Tour were initially required to undergo testing through Friday. With two Italian teams’ staff believed to have contracted coronavirus, the final two stages of the race were canceled and the race caravan needed to be checked for infection. Rumors circulate that these two initial cases were, in fact, false positive diagnoses.

Friday’s COVID-19 tests were believed to have come back negative for the majority of the peloton. However, Sunday, when members of Groupama-FDJ, Gazprom, Cofidis, and at least one other team prepared to travel home, their exit was blocked by local health authorities and hotel staff.

“On Friday, we were still allowed to go wherever we wanted in the hotel – to the gym, or the swimming pool, and to be in contact with the other hotel guests. That evening, we got the results of our tests, and we were all negative.” David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) told L’Equipe, Monday.

“But on Sunday, March 1, at 7 a.m., government security staff decided to block off our entire floor, and we weren’t allowed out of our rooms, while others were allowed to leave. We still don’t know why.”

The three teams are all staying on the same floor of the Abu Dhabi hotel, and it seems that three positive cases of coronavirus have been found in their number – provoking the need for a re-test of all those in the vicinity.

While Groupama-FDJ confirmed via twitter Monday that only seven of its total number of 12 were required to remain and take a second test, it seems that all riders from Cofidis were held in enforced lockdown.

Thierry Vittu, president of Cofidis, expressed his anger at the situation that has left his team held in hotel rooms for five days.

“This situation is really not normal,” read a statement on the team’s website. “We’re being held against our will, in a place we didn’t choose [to be], and for an unknown length of time.”

“When we meet someone from the hotel in the corridor, he runs away…that brings me another comparison. We are treated like plague victims: our rooms have not been made since we arrived five days ago, [and to replenish supplies] we have to go in front of the elevator, [and] there is a cart [which has been left for us] and we help ourselves with sheets, soaps, towels…”

While the situation has largely been managed by the Abu Dhabi health authority and race organizers RCS Sport, the UCI has now stepped in. The governing body told LeMonde on Tuesday that it has “contacted government authorities directly.” The UCI claims it is “very active in speeding up the return of the members of the teams concerned,” and “hope that the riders and staff can leave the country today.”

With the UAE Tour falling at a vital time for riders’ preparation for spring races and acting as part of their build toward later grand tours, riders have been left unable to train for five days, with some – including Australian rider Nathan Haas – finding makeshift ways to train in hotel rooms.

Haas is fortunate in being able to make light of the situation, however his teammate Stephane Rossetto has voiced his concerns over the longer-term implications.

“Everything that has been done in recent weeks has been reduced to nothing,” the Frenchman told 20minutes.fr. “I know that I will soon regain my physical condition and lose the weight I have gained here. But above all, I don’t have much to do. I’m wasting time. It’s a real shortfall for us. We trained hard to get back into shape and we’re going to start from there having lost everything.”

Likewise, sprinter Arnaud Demare, winner of Milano-Sanremo 2016, worries about his form ahead of the opening monument of the year, saying “I don’t know how we keep morale up without training 17 days from Milan-Sanremo.”

All being well, the UCI’s statement that teams will be cleared Tuesday will see an end to the crisis.

However, the requirement for re-tests and enforced quarantine leave a host of unanswered questions about whether initial cases of COVID-19 have been mis-diagnosed, testing procedures have been correctly administered, and whether the communication and management of the entire situation has been adequately handled. The lack of clarity over the proper conduct of the first round of tests also calls into question whether any positive cases have been leaked into the wider population.

The first priority is ensuring the health of the remaining riders in quarantine, and the world at large. The next will be to seek clarity over a situation that seemingly continues to complexify.