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Jumbo-Visma is set to tease out its Tour de France line-up one rider at a time over the coming days, not because of a publicity ploy, but because the Dutch team is still unclear about its eight rider roster in the wake of a steep rise in COVID-19 cases.
The team already had question marks over a number of potential slots with the Tour de France less than a fortnight away but those discussions became far more critical after the entire Tour de Suisse squad pulled out after an outbreak of COVID-19.
Now the management must wait to see how many of the infected riders have recovered in time before making their final selection. It’s unclear, and the team would not confirm, how many positive cases were returned at Suisse, nor who exactly was affected, but Primož Roglič, Wout van Aert and Jonas Vingegaard are all in the clear after racing the Critérium du Dauphiné instead.
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The situation for the Tour de France looks unsettling, whether you’re Jumbo-Visma or one of its main rivals. UAE Team Emirates lost riders at the Tour of Slovenia due to COVID positives, while Bora Hansgrohe, Ineos Grenadiers, EF Education-EasyPost and Israel-Premier Tech were all affected at Suisse too.
“It’s clear that we didn’t go home for just one positive case but we’re not allowed to say anything else about it. It’s really difficult because we’re in a society that has now restrictions anymore, and also the event has almost no restrictions anymore,” Jumbo-Visma director Merijn Zeeman told VeloNews.
“The omicron virus affects riders in the bunch now, so it’s not like in 2020 or 2021, when being in the open air reduced the risk significantly. It’s making it hard to do the right things. I expect it to be a very difficult Tour de France.”
“The reality though is that COVID is really back and it will influence the Tour de France. It will 100 percent impact the Tour de France. I’m sure of that.”
Riders do not appear to be as affected with this current strain of COVID – many of the riders who tested positive at the Tour de Suisse were asymptomatic – and Jumbo-Visma still has time before finalizing its Tour de France roster. At this point a full selection has not yet been made, and several riders do not know if they have made the cut. Time will tell.
“In the coming days, we’ll announce our selection day by day. That gives us some more days to fill in the last spots because they really depend on the circumstances. The COVID situation is so explosive for all the teams at the moment that it’s really difficult to make the right decisions,” said Zeeman.
Two riders who had dreams of making the Tour de France, and who were part of the Suisse squad, are Rohan Dennis and Sepp Kuss. If healthy, both would have been strong candidate for selection, although Dennis was sick with stomach issues during the opening days in Suisse.
“They were in Switzerland, plus Rohan Dennis had problems with his stomach. It’s clear that it’s not the dream scenario. That’s very clear. That’s on the table now but there are some things that we are very happy about, like the performances of Stevie at the Dauphiné. What he did there was truly incredible. Laporte did a fantastic job, and all the seven guys were really good and progressing. There are always going to be some setbacks and that’s happened in Suisse. Now we just need to evaluate. We just have to wait on what will happen. We just have to wait for all the answers.”