Le Covid-19 s’invite sur le Tour de France et pourrait chambouler la course

Le Covid-19 s’invite sur le Tour de France et pourrait chambouler la course

During the 9th stage of the Tour de France between Aigle (Switzerland) and Chatel les Portes du Soleil, July 10.

Mikaël Cherel is convinced of this: Monday, July 11 will serve as the first “justice of the peace” for the Tour de France peloton. The thing may seem paradoxical, because it is a… day of rest before hitting the road again for two weeks. “I’m afraid that there are a lot of people forced to go home”develops Belgian Oliver Naesen, his AG2R Citroën teammate.

It’s that the Covid-19 plays the (bad) surprise guests. As soon as the 9e stage, on Sunday, the riders and their management marched under a white tent set up near the team buses, to comply with compulsory screening. The procedure was to continue on Monday. The results will be communicated on Tuesday morning.

“A storm above the head”

The protocol of the International Cycling Union (UCI) may have been lightened before the start of the 109e Grande Boucle, and a positive result no longer being synonymous with automatic exclusion, the anxiety is however palpable after several packages over the past forty-eight hours.

“In our team, the staff is tested every day and the riders every two or three days. We are very careful”, detail Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal). “We live with a storm overhead that can blow up at any time”summarizes Marc Madiot, the general manager of Groupama-FDJ. The Mayennais still has in mind the disaster scenario of the Tour de Suisse, in June, where nearly thirty riders had to leave the race because of SARS-CoV-2: “When the virus arrives in the peloton, it spreads quickly. »

Guillaume Martin can attest to this. A “very slight sore throat” in the evening of Saturday, two antigenic tests confirmed by a PCR test, and the ax fell: the leader of Cofidis was not authorized to take, Sunday, the departure of the 9e stage between Aigle (Switzerland) and Châtel Les Portes du Soleil (Haute-Savoie). His first retirement in three hundred and sixty-two days of racing.

“It’s frustrating as I don’t have any symptoms, I feel fine. »pointed out the person concerned, who was 14e in the general classification before leaving the event. The tripartite college made up of his team doctor, the Covid-19 referent for the event and the UCI medical director considered that the Norman’s viral load was too high.

“Maximum level of precautions”

“You don’t want to go home just because of a positive test, when you don’t have symptoms. When you have a cold, you go to training and you race”insists Maxime Bouet (Arkéa), more worried about being put out of the race by the Covid-19 than by the pain due to the broken rib he has been dragging from Denmark. “It’s not so much a health problem for us, it’s more that it risks making us miss a big collective and personal objective”explains Mikaël Cherel. SARS-CoV-2 has already got the better of the first Tour of one of his teammates, climber Geoffrey Bouchard. So he chose to relativize: “You shouldn’t worry about that, there’s nothing you can do about it. »

“Covid-19 is not a rival, but a parameter that can affect things.
It can ruin the Tour » Tadej Pogacar, yellow jersey

In the ranks of the UAE Emirates team of the yellow jersey and double winner of the event, Tadej Pogacar, this phlegm is not really shared. The issues are not quite the same. “It is important that any positive runner goes home”insists the team’s sporting director, Andrej Hauptman. Deprived of his lieutenant Matteo Trentin just before the departure from Denmark, the Slovenian will also have to compose until the Champs-Elysées without Vegard Stake Laengen, a precious rider to put him back in the peloton.

“Covid-19 is not a rival, but a parameter that can affect things. It can ruin the Tour”he recognized “Pogi” on Saturday, in Lausanne (Switzerland). In his entourage, we do not hide that he fears above all a possible contamination (and a forced return to his Monegasque home) much more than a waste of time on one of his opponents, always reversible.

Sign of the challenge, the Jumbo-Visma team, the team of its main rival, the Dane Jonas Vingegaard (2e 39 seconds overall), since the start of this edition has displayed a level of caution unmatched in the peloton: FFP2 mask for riders and sports directors, even in cars, wider perimeter around the bus, air purifiers in their hotels… “For us, it is impossible to raise the level of precautions, it is at the maximum”underlines the boss of the Dutch armada, Richard Plugge.

“I am forced to pass through the crowd”

After two years marked by the pandemic, the UCI and Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the managing company of the Tour, have chosen to live with the virus. This is where the gap with the peloton is sometimes felt. “The public lives normally and I live normally at home, but not on the Tour de Francehammers Marc Madiot. We can’t blame anyone, but it’s true that the situation is more delicate than the past two years when the public had this anxiety and paid attention. »

“We take precautions with a PCR test every three days and an antigen test every day, and I am forced, this morning, at the start village, to pass through the crowd”plague his team counterpart TotalEnergies, Jean-René Bernaudeau, annoyed by these inconsistencies.

Read the decryption: For its third season with the Covid-19, the Grande Boucle chooses to live with the virus

The Belgian Florian Vermeersch remains more pragmatic: “I try to limit my contacts, I keep my mask on when there are a lot of people, but, in the end, we ride in a group of 180 guys and without a mask, so…” Sunday, before the start of the 9e stage, Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) answered questions from journalists with his face uncovered. He who had a sore throat the day before.

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