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Sources confirmed to VeloNews late Friday night on the eve of the start of the 2020 Tour that French government authorities have squashed a compromise hammered out by key stakeholders about the critical rule just hours before the start of the race in Nice.
Team sources told VeloNews the race will start Saturday with the original “two-strike” policy in place, which means that if two riders or staffers test positive for COVID-19 within a week, the team could be kicked out of the race.
That reversal reveals how deeply involved the French government is in managing the 2020 Tour, and confirms that the French government, along with local and national health officials, will have ultimate control of just how far the 2020 Tour goes against a backdrop of a world pandemic.
Tour officials and representatives of the UCI were not immediately available for comment Friday night in Europe.
The latest policy shift comes hours after the UCI and key stakeholders hashed out a compromise on how the race would handle COVID-19 cases within a team during grand tours. That issue was a major question mark leading toward the start of the rescheduled Tour.
As originally reported in VeloNews, Tour officials informed teams earlier this month that two positives within their respective team bubbles — limited to 30 staffers and riders — could result in expulsion from the race. Tour boss Christian Prudhomme later told Reuters that the rule would be applied if two positives came within one week of each other.
Teams were not happy, and pressured the UCI and the Tour to soften the rules to invoke the expulsion rule for only riders. Meetings over the past several days reached a compromise, with staffers being removed from the two-strike equation.
French authorities, however, were not willing to accept that, sources told VeloNews. With coronavirus infection rates rising across France and the site of the Tour start in Nice now considered a coronavirus “red zone,” French officials wanted the stricter language in place for the start of the race Saturday, sources said.
UCI president David Lappartient told reporters Friday that health authorities would have the final word on health questions, and included language in the updated rules stating that, “local and national rules and laws prevail over the requirements and recommendations set out in the present document,” a UCI document read.
The rule reversal will put added pressure on teams to maintain the integrity of their respective bubbles. A memo passed among teams this week said that the French government would consider an entire team in “direct contact” with any COVID positive if video or photographs appeared of riders or staffers not wearing required face masks inside team buses or hotels. Meaning that if there is one positive case within a team, the entire bubble could face the consequences collectively if the rules are not followed, the memo stated.
The latest movement comes after UCI officials confirmed Friday a mobile lab will be in place throughout the Tour to be able to test and evaluate samples in a timely manner, including trying to confirm a positive test before the next day’s stage starts.