Vuelta a España: Sam Bennett thought team was ‘having a laugh’ when he found out he had COVID-19

Bora-Hansgrohe rider says he has 'no way of knowing' how he got infected but describes being able to smell the breath of fans as the peloton rides by.

Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images

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Sam Bennett thought a Bora-Hansgrohe staffer was “having a laugh” when he told him that he’d tested positive for COVID-19 at the Vuelta a España.

Bennett returned a positive test in the hours leading up to the stage 10 time trial but he was hopeful that he’d still be able to get out on his bike and he continued his preparation for the stage.

After asking the staff member to do another test, and then waiting for a separate analysis of his viral load via a PCR test — riders with a sufficiently low viral load are allowed to continue competing — he got the news that he was out.

“He showed it to me. Two red lines. I still didn’t believe it and made him do another test straight away. The result was the same. I had Covid. Still, I lived in hope,” Bennett wrote in his diary for the Irish Independent.

“As I waited tentatively for the [PCR] results, I felt fine, so I really expected the virus to be low in my body. The results said otherwise, and instead of rolling down the start ramp, I watched the time trial from my hotel room this afternoon.”

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Bennett is one of 17 riders that have left the Vuelta a España after testing positive for COVID-19. Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) became the first major GC contender to leave the race Wednesday due to the virus, with Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) also out.

Bennett said he had felt some signs of potential illness earlier in the race but thought nothing of it at the time. He added that he had taken as many precautions as he could, including wearing a mask on the team bus, to avoid catching the virus.

“I had a slight tickle in my throat three or four days ago after the stage we raced in the rain. I felt tired afterwards too but, like most cyclists, I’ve had the same sensations at plenty of races and as I was absorbing the load and getting better legs as the race went on, I wasn’t worried about it,” he wrote.

“Even when I got here, I brought hand sanitiser with me everywhere before and after the stages. I wore my mask on the team bus when we were already in a bubble. I wouldn’t even sign autographs for people. I was so careful.”

Though there are some protocols in place with riders, team staff, and journalists required to wear masks in certain areas, there are many spaces where these are not in place. With most countries largely reopening their societies, spectators are not required to wear masks nor are most other people that teams may come into contact with on a daily basis.

“Looking back, there is no way of knowing where I got it. We had two flights mid-race. Two buses filled with riders. I got changed in a tent on a mountain top with 80 riders straight off their bikes with no masks,” Bennett said.

“There were cleaners in hotels coughing and spluttering and not wearing masks. On the climbs, people were so close that you could smell their breath as they roared encouragement at us. It could have been all of these things or none of them. It’s futile trying to blame anyone, but it’s very disappointing.”

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