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COVID cases are already sweeping across the peloton at the Tour de Suisse, with scores of teams sending riders home, and the virus reached into the Slovenia tour overnight.
The cases are raising alarm bells across the peloton just days ahead of the July 1 start of the Tour de France.
On Friday, UAE officials confirmed that Mikkel Bjerg, a key helper for the Tour de France, was diagnosed with COVID overnight while racing at Slovenia alongside Pogačar.
Officials said that all other riders and staff at the Slovenia tour, including Pogačar, were immediately tested and all returned negative tests.
Marc Hischi, racing at the Tour de Suisse, also tested positive for COVID. Other riders and staffers there also came back negative.
Officials said both riders were withdrawn from competition.
Joel Suter, roommate of Hirschi, and Vegard Stake Laengen, roommate of Bjerg, both returned negative tests, but will both be removed from racing as a precautionary measure.
“Unfortunately, like many other teams we have also had a surge in COVID-19 cases. Our affected riders have been fully assessed, and are currently mildly symptomatic,” said Adrian Rotunno, the team’s medical director. “The riders sharing a room with the positive cases are deemed high-risk contacts, so in the interest of rider, team and community health, we decided it is best that they also be withdrawn.
“It’s a pity but the reality is that the virus is still with us as a society and we are monitoring our athletes regularly to be as careful as we can.”
Pogačar is racing this weekend at Tour of Slovenia and was not impacted, officials said.
UAE’s Rafal Majka holds the leader’s jersey going into Friday’s stage at Slovenia, with Pogačar poised in third place.
The cases within the defending Tour champions will create unwanted late hurdles in preparations ahead of the team’s yellow jersey defense.
Hirschi, Bjerg, and Laengen were all members of UAE’s Tour-winning team last year, and were on the team’s long list to start the Tour on July 1.
Missing a few days of racing won’t be decisive, but the riders will be required to rest until symptoms are cleared, and could put them on the back foot ahead of the Tour.