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Following objections from teams, the UCI has indicated that it will likely soften its two-strike COVID-19 test rule, which stipulates that any team with two positive COVID tests within a week-long period will be kicked out of the Tour de France and other races.
The current rule does not offer any distinction between riders and staff. Two tests anywhere in the team would result in removal from the race. Teams believed this to be too strict, and their worries were compounded by what appear to be false positives within the peloton in the last week.
“The measure will become more flexible,” said UCI President David Lappartient, who was present at the start of the Bretagne Classic in Plouay on Tuesday and was asked about the rule. He provided no additional detail as to how that flexibility might be implemented, but an announcement is expected in the coming days. The short statement came following a videoconference between the UCI, the ASO, and teams.
“We discussed quietly,” Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot told l’Equipe. “The idea is simple: we are all in the same boat, we all want the Tour to arrive in Paris and we will do everything on both sides.”
Concerns were raised after multiple riders tested positive and then negative, often within hours. False-positive tests are possible using the PCR test for COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization, false positives remain more likely than false negatives.
Teams were concerned that a pair of false positives could send them packing from the biggest race on the calendar.
On Tuesday, Bora-Hansgrohe withdrew from the Bretagne Classic after a rider tested positive, only to have that rider’s second test come back negative later the same day. All other riders and staff at the race were tested again, and all returned negative results.
Astana’s Hugo Houle tested positive for Coronavirus last week, but negative this week.
“It looks like my concerns are being confirmed,” said Bora general manager Rolf Denk. “It is known that PCR tests have a certain rate of error and thus produce false-positive results. This in itself would not be a problem, if there were the possibility to check the results immediately in the case of a positive finding.
“In the anti-doping regulations, an A Sample and a B Sample are provided, precisely for this reason. If the A Sample is positive, the result is checked with the B Sample. Within the UCI’s current testing strategy, this verification is not present. Anti-doping labs are also accredited, which means that certain standards are set and checked. That would be one approach.”
Madiot had previously offered up one potential solution: treat the riders and staff on a given team as two separate groups, allowing for two positive tests within each group before removal from a race.
The UCI has not yet indicated how it plans to balance these concerns with the very real possibility of an accurate positive test within the peloton as it makes its way around Europe.