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Monday’s PCR testing for COVID-19 at the 2020 Tour de France revealed zero positive tests amongst the pro peloton. But five positive tests amongst team staff and race management created a stir within the race’s traveling entourage on Tuesday morning.
An official communique from the Tour de France said that Ineos Grenadiers, Mitchelton-Scott, Cofidis Solutions Crédits, and AG2R-La Mondiale all had one staff person return a positive test for the virus. All four staffers in question have left the race.
Additionally, Christian Prudhomme, the Tour de France’s race director, returned a positive test for COVID-19, according to L’Equipe.
News of the positive tests swirled around the start village Tuesday morning on Île d’Oléron, which is hosting the start of the 10th stage of the race. Specifically, the news that the Tour de France’s lead official, Prudhomme, had tested positive was a major talking point amongst journalists and staff.
“It’s better that it’s him than one of the riders,” said Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb) of Prudhomme’s positive. “The tests proved that the system is working.”
Prudhomme’s positive test was confirmed by French newspaper L’Equipe, and media reports quoted the race’s top official saying that he would leave the race and put himself into isolation. In a statement from race owner ASO, it was revealed that Prudhomme has not been officially part of the race ‘bubble,’ which means he has not been in direct contact with the riders of their staff.
Still, Prudhomme will now leave the race and isolate himself for eight days.
“I’m leaving the Tour for eight days. I’m going to do as any other French employee would in this case,” Prudhomme told AFP. “I’m going to watch the Tour on TV, which I haven’t done for 15 years. The riders live like monks, which isn’t the case for me. It’s for that reason that I don’t belong to the race bubble and don’t have contact with the riders.”
Prudhomme said he underwent three tests prior to the race, including one blood test for the virus, and all the tests came back negative. Prudhomme also said he was not showing symptoms of the virus.
“I have been tested positive but I feel absolutely fine,” Prudhomme said. “The most important thing for me is that no rider has been tested positive.”
Prudhomme participates in numerous social functions throughout the race, and on Saturday, September 5, he spent time with French Prime Minister Jean Castex, even sharing a car with the French leader. According to Reuters, Castex will now undergo testing for COVID-19.
“They were both wearing masks and respecting social distancing,” a representative for Castex told Reuters. “The prime minister is to undergo a new test, just in case.”
The news that staff members on four different teams had tested positive also created a stir. According to team sources, team doctors stayed up most of Sunday night into early Monday morning confirming and then uploading results of the PCR tests to ASO. Riders did not learn of the results until early Tuesday morning.
The four teams that had staff people test positive are now placed on shaky footing for the remainder of the race, as all four have been handed a proverbial ‘yellow card’ for the remainder of the Tour. Per the Tour de France’s safety rules on COVID-19, any team that records two positive tests amongst riders or staff within one week will be expelled from the event.
Teams will undergo a second round of COVID-19 testing this coming Monday, September 14. Additionally, anyone with symptoms of the virus will be tested at will.
Luka Mezgec of Mitchelton-Scott had a mixed reaction when he learned that one of his team’s staff members had recorded a positive test.
“We got the info this morning that there is one staff member and he is now in isolation, and the race goes on,” Mezgec said. “Surely there is a disappointment he has to leave the team. It’s actually quite good to see that this bubble is working. It’s 700 people, and there is only a few positives.”
The teams in question did not reveal the names of the staffers in question. According to reports in French media, Mitchelton-Scott said the staffer in question — as well as staffers who had been in contact with the person — were all being placed into isolation until further notice.
And the announcement of the tests wasn’t without a hiccup. According to reports in French media, race officials initially believed a staff person on Belgian team Deceuninck–Quick-Step had recorded a positive test. The staffer in question was taken Tuesday morning to undergo a second test, and the result of the second test was negative.
The team put out a statement addressing the miscue.
“As you will have seen, it has been reported that a member of our team staff was collected from our team hotel this morning,” the statement said. “An error was made in the laboratory with the sample that the individual gave yesterday, meaning they were taken for [retesting] this morning. The result of this second test has been returned as negative and we will continue to race as normal.”
The 2020 Tour de France rolls on amid the COVID-19 pandemic with an intact peloton, for now.