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Why aren't we asking questions?
turns out those "negative" COVID tests weren't too reliable...
In the past 12-hours, the Tour de France has been turned on its head.
COVID-19 is ripping through the peloton. Or, is it? Well, it depends who you ask.
After Stage 9 on Sunday evening, the whole peloton undertook mandatory COVID testing and within hours there were reports that every rider had tested negative. With UAE’s Stake Vegard Laengen and AG2R’s Geoffrey Bouchard testing positive after Stage 7 plus multiple members of team staff and media reportedly testing positive throughout the race as well, the claims that every rider had tested negative were met with scepticism.
Come the morning of Stage 10, the sceptics were proved right. Firstly, news broke on Twitter that Australian Luke Durbridge had tested positive and would be departing the race. Soon after, UAE Team Emirates announced that George Bennett would be leaving the race after testing positive which was later confirmed by a PCR test.
Rafał Majka, UAE’s best domestique so far this Tour, also tested positive. According to the team he “is asymptomatic and analysing his PCR found he had a very low risk of infectivity”. The low viral load rule has been in place since at least last year’s Tour, and is also the reason Stage 9 winner Bob Jungels is still in the race. Although, it is interesting to note that Pogačar spent the majority of the today riding away from his teammates.
We’ve got a problem though. When the Tour de France undertook their mandatory tests, every rider tested negative. It is only thanks to the team's internal testing policy that these guys have gone positive. If teams just followed the race organiser’s policy, maybe George Bennett would still be in the race.
I don’t know what every team’s internal testing policy is like, but would it really surprise you if certain COVID positives were kept quiet? I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there were certain conversations this morning within the UAE Team Emirates camp as to whether or not to go public with their positive results.
Some have claimed that it’s wrong to be sceptical, but I challenge that. Let's be honest, although in completely different circumstances, this sport knows how to keep positive tests quiet and it wouldn’t be the first time that teams and organisers haven’t been honest with the public.
This might not be the case at all, but given all of the evidence in front of us, why aren’t journalists questioning it?
It’s not the first Tour de France that could be decided in the lab rather than on the road, but this time we can only hope it’s different. Testing positive for COVID-19 is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is still Tour de France ending. Nobody wants to win the Tour de France by survival of the PCR test rather than a man-on-man battle across France so shouldn’t all teams at least have the same protocol?
Coming into the final two weeks, we should expect fireworks. The UAE team already has two men out with COVID, a third is racing on through COVID and a fourth, Marc Hirschi, is having a tough Tour. Pogačar’s only fully healthy mountain men are McNulty and Soler, guys who are world class but who aren’t able to put up with the strength of a full Ineos Grenadiers or Jumbo Visma squad by themselves.
The Ineos Grenadiers still have multiple cards to play. Although Martinez is crumbling, they have Thomas, Pidcock and Yates waiting in the wings. Then there’s the Jumbo-Visma super squad - if you’re going to beat Tadej Pogačar, this is the opportunity everyone.
If Tadej Pogačar pulls this off, it will go down as one of the greatest Tour de France victories ever. There’s the age old adage that you need a team around you to win the Tour, Pogačar is hoping to prove that wrong.
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