Setback for Tadej Pogačar as UAE Team Emirates hit by another COVID positive at Tour de France

Team manager Joxean Fernández Matxin leaves race due to virus.

Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images

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Already on the back foot after positive COVID tests put Vegard Stake Laengen and George Bennett out of the Tour de France and raised concerns about Rafal Majka, who tested positive in recent days but was able to continue due to a low viral load, the UAE Team Emirates squad has another key person exit due to the virus.

This time it is not a rider, but rather the team manager himself.

Joxean Fernández Matxin announced via Twitter that he too had contracted COVID, and that he would be leaving the race as a result.

“Now I am the one who has to say goodbye to the main objective of the year,” he tweeted. “Last night I tested positive for COVID-19 in the internal control carried out by the team itself. Believing in and helping the boys and the team until the end, there’s still some Tour left.”

Team Principal Mauro Gianetti is also at the race and will presumably take over Matxin’s duties in directing the tactics.

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The news is another blow to the squad, which has been under pressure in recent days.

Two-time Tour winner Tadej Pogačar had his first real crisis moment in the Tour on Wednesday’s stage 11 to the Col du Granon, cracking on the final climb and losing 2:51 to his main rival Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma).

He ended the day 2:22 behind Vingegaard in the overall standings and while he insisted he would fight back, was unable to gap the Dane on Thursday’s stage to Alpe d’Huez.

He will continue his fight but is two riders down after the exit of Stake Laengen and Bennett, has a third with traces of the virus and has now lost one of the key tactical guides.

The squad was affected by COVID even before the Tour started, with Matteo Trentin unable to line out as planned in Copenhagen in the Tour when he tested positive.

Speaking to VeloNews in recent days, Gianetti said that he had no concern about Majka continuing in the Tour, and that the squad took the virus very seriously.

“It’s the decision of the doctor with a very low viral load. The UCI doctors say that he can start so that’s the decision of the doctor,” Gianetti told VeloNews at the end of stage 10.

“If the doctor and the UCI say that he can start then I suppose they know what they’re doing. That’s not my job. Since the beginning of the Tour we’ve been wearing masks. We wear them in the car, or together, or on the bus. Everyone wears them all the time. Since the beginning of the Tour.”

There are no indications that Fernández Matxin contracted the virus from Majka.

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