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The peloton is not taking any chances in its return to racing this week at the Vuelta a Burgos.
Or, at least, it’s trying to limit the collective risk as much as it can while racing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Race officials confirmed Wednesday that three UAE-Emirates riders who did not start the second stage at the five-day Burgos tour returned negative COVID-19 controls in follow-up tests. That comes a day after Israel Start-Up Nation pulled two riders from the race who also had been in close contact with someone else who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Before Wednesday’s start, the team removed Sebastian Molano, Cristian Muñoz and Carmilo Ardila from the race after all three had been in close contact with someone else who had tested positive. Team officials confirmed to VeloNews that the trio, before they traveled to Burgos, had been spending time with another cyclist in their training group in Pamplona, Spain, who later revealed a positive test Monday.
Once the team heard about a possible link, they didn’t hesitate to the pull the riders in a precautionary move.
“We all have to take that responsibility in the peloton,” UAE-Emirates sport director Neil Stephens told VeloNews. “We have to work hard so that the sport goes ahead, and we’ve got to do our little bit as well. We had three guys who we had to pull this morning, just in case, and even though they were negative, we wanted to respect the rules.”
And just like what happened with the Israel Start-Up Nation riders Tuesday, the follow-up controls returned negative.
The hiccups reveal just how tricky conditions will be in the coming weeks and months as the peloton tries to race in the midst of fast-changing conditions across Europe.
Everyone is watching the Burgos tour closely to see things go. This weekend, the men’s WorldTour calendar resumes with Strade Bianche, and next week France and Poland will see the first major stage races.
Everyone expects to see what’s happening this week in Spain, to play out similarly in the upcoming races.
“We’re all on a learning curve with this situation,” Stephens said. “It’s been a chaotic period for everyone, but if we all make the right decisions, we should be able to see some great racing this season. That’s what we had to do today. Tomorrow it might be another team.”
All riders who started the Vuelta a Burgos on Tuesday had to provide proof that they were negative on COVID-19 controls taken at least 72 hours before the race started. The two Israel Start-Up Nation riders as well as the three UAE-Emirates riders who were later removed from the race were all negative ahead of the start, and negative again on the follow-up controls.
Missing three teammates in Wednesday’s stage meant that eventual winner Fernando Gaviria had to freewheel his way through the bunch sprint.
“I would have liked to have had my teammates, especially Molano, who is an important pilot for me in the sprints,” Gavaria said. “It was more important that the team did not take any risks, and so we made the decision to pull them out of the race. The victory today was more with the legs and luck.”
Gaviria is one of the top pros who came down with COVID-19, after he tested positive and spent time in a hospital in February during one of the early outbreaks of the coronavirus during the UAE Tour.