Relief for Tadej Pogacar and Tour de France after riders pass Covid-19 tests

All 165 remaining riders free to enjoy rest day ahead of Alps challenge

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There was relief for race leader Tadej Pogacar and the rest of the Tour de France peloton on Monday after the latest round of Covid-19 tests all came back negative.

The good news means all 165 remaining riders can now enjoy their Monday off and then focus on the fearsome challenge that lies in front of them when tackling the Alps.

Reigning champion – and current yellow jersey holder in this year's race – Pogacar was given a shock at the weekend when teammate Vegard Stake Laengen tested positive for coronavirus.

The Slovenian, looking to win the Tour for a third year in a row, admitted the loss of the Norwegian was a blow.

“He was the big guy of the team, really strong and in good shape, pulling on the flat, the climbs, everywhere,” Pogacar, 23, said. “It’s going to be hard without him, but I think we can manage with seven riders to get to Paris. It's a big scare, the pandemic is still there with us."

Such are the precautions currently being taken to ensure the Tour continues as scheduled, UAE revealed that riders each had not only their own room, but their own masseur.

Sunday's Stage 9 was preceded by the news that the top French rider from the 2021 Tour, Guillaume Martin had been forced to withdraw too. “It's such a shame,” said the then 13th-placed rider. “I just have a slight sore throat.”

But Martin had been deemed infectious, in Covid speak, emitting a strong viral charge.

Jungels wins Stage 9 as Pogacar retains lead

“The decision was taken in a collegial manner by the concerned team doctor, the Covid-19 doctor for the event and the UCI Medical Director, on the basis of the available clinical elements,” a UCI statement said.

A collegial medical decision can also clear a rider to continue, in the case of a low viral charge.

This was the case of Stage 9 winner Bob Jungels, of the AG2R team, who withdrew Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard on Saturday.

Jungels, from Luxembourg, tested positive before the Grand Depart in Copenhagen but was cleared to ride.

“I'm not a doctor. It's not for me to comment on this decision, but I didn't feel ill,” said Jungels after doctors deemed him unlikely to infect others.

AG2R riders share rooms, and Bouchard's roommate and the rest of riders, including Jungels were cleared to race.

“Cycling is exemplary with its covid testing,” a member of the AG2R entourage told AFP that day, suggesting cycling took its testing much more seriously than some other sports.

A Tour de France doctor said ahead of Sunday's start that there would be one more official mass test later this week.

The UCI reminded all concerned no Monday to “wear a mask, maintain sufficient physical distance and disinfect hands frequently”.

The race will resume on Tuesday with a 148.1km ride from Morzine Les Portes du Soleil to Megeve preceding two demanding days in the Alps.

Thursday offers the iconic Alpe d'Huez mountain, where vast crowds of spectators gather, often running alongside riders and sometimes getting too close for comfort.

“Every day we are on the road, on the climbs,” added Pogacar after teammate Laengen's exit from the race. “There’s so many people screaming, which I like, but it increases the possibility that you get infected by viruses. I hope that this was it, and that we will stay safe until the end.”

Updated: July 11, 2022, 12:02 PM
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