‘It’s a sword of Damocles hanging over us’: COVID-19 concern in the Tour de France bunch

More worry following Martin departure as riders talk about testing and their concerns.

Photo: Getty Images

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CHÂTEL, France (VN) – It was sweeping around the Tour de France paddock in Aigle as riders arrived for stage 9. Not COVID-19, but the news of Cofidis leader Guillaume Martin leaving the race after registering a COVID-19 positive, having been 14th overall.

AG2R-Citroën leader Romain Bardet only found out from journalists at the start. “Guillaume has gone now? That’s terrible. I don’t know what to say. But well, I’m a fatalist,” Bardet says. “You have to be careful to ensure it doesn’t happen.”

Hanging over us

Both he and compatriot David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) are faring strongly in the GC after stage 8, sat fifth and sixth respectively.

“Certainly, I’m a bit worried about it,” Gaudu told journalists. “We all have a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. We do everything we can to be very careful with a strict protocol.”

The 25-year-old flying high at the Tour de France has not been able to interact with spectators.

“I’m sorry to all the fans at the start and finishes, we don’t do selfies and autographs to avoid possible COVID problems,” he said. “I do it reluctantly; it hurts to say no.”

No need to test when healthy

Over at Jumbo-Visma, its domestique Nathan van Hooydonck was “not really” worried about COVID-19. “I try not to think about it. Tonight, we have tests and we’ll know more,” he said, of the obligatory rest day tests.

Van Hooydonck is not taking tests every day. “If there was a rider who’s not feeling well, then the first thing they will do is a test. If everyone in the team is feeling healthy, there’s no need to test.”

White jersey Tom Pidcock (Ineos-Grenadiers) echoed those sentiments: “It’s a normal illness: if you’re ill, you’re ill, you can’t race. Simple.

“It’s not like because you have COVID and no symptoms, you go home. We test when we need to test.”

Pidcock, last man standing?

Of course, the Briton is carrying immunity, with antibodies from his COVID illness three weeks ago. His teammate Adam Yates was forced to withdraw from the Tour de Suisse with a positive COVID test, too.

“I’m feeling quite comfortable about it, I think I’m all right,” Pidcock said, joking: “Me and Adam [Yates] were saying, it’s me and him one-two in Paris! Me, Adam and [fellow COVID recoverer] Vlasov.”

“It wouldn’t be great if it did kick off,” he said, in seriousness. “At the same time, I’m safe, but it’s not right, really, is it?”

The final word went to fatalist Romain Bardet. “With COVID, crashes, [my crash] yesterday, you never know what you can expect. I’m really just taking it day by day.”

For once the modern Tour de France rider’s cliché du jour is very apt – everything can change in a moment with a dreaded second red line on a test.

The peloton will have their fingers crossed for a clean bill of health on the race’s second rest day.

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