'Anyone who enters the bubble now will not leave it': Teams take further Covid-19 precautions ahead of major Classics

Teams are becoming increasingly cautious in protecting their Covid-19 bubbles to avoid risking missing the likes of Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The men’s peloton is increasingly becoming more concerned about the risk of positive Covid-19 cases, with Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s doctor warning that “anyone who enters the bubble now will not leave it.”

In the past week there has been a number of positive cases involving riders in Belgian and Spanish races, with Britain’s Matt Walls contracting the virus forcing his Bora-Hansgrohe team to miss the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Ghent-Wevelgem, while Lotto-Soudal’s Harry Sweeny missed the Classic Brugge-De Panne. Likewise, Trek-Segafredo didn’t race Ghent-Wevelgem because of two positives.

At the Volta a Catalunya, Lotto-Soudal reported another positive after the race, this time with Stef Cras, coming just days after Kern Pharma abandoned the Catalan race owing to two team members testing positive after stage four. Alpecin-Fenix didn’t start the race as planned due to three Covid positives.

With the Tour of Flanders just days away, and teams hoping that Paris-Roubaix will be given the green light to go ahead in locked down northern France, teams are anxious about the virus infiltrating their team bubbles.

Typically, a positive test for a rider or team staff results in their close contacts having to isolate, which invariably rules a number of riders out of action for upcoming races.

Aware of the consequences, and with the heightened risk of contagion due to new variants that are deemed more contagious, Deceuninck-Quick-Step doctor Yvan Vanmol told Het Nieuwsblad: “We have tightened up our protocols.

“The bottom line is that anyone who comes to Belgium for Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders is no longer allowed to leave the hotel. Anyone who enters the bubble now will not leave it. It applies to everyone, including the Belgians: no one leaves the bubble.

“You can keep your riders within a bubble, but the staff of the hotel where you stay will go home every day. Then you can only hope that they do not get infected.”

Vanmol said that managing the pandemic within a sporting environment was harder than at the resumption of racing last summer, despite increased and improved testing.

He added. “The situation has completely changed even compared to a year ago. If you could say during the first wave that anyone who did not take risks wouldn’t contract the virus, then we are now dealing with a much more contagious variant.

“At the same time, we continue to focus on an enormous amount of testing. We conduct rapid and PCR tests ourselves. For the latter we use a permanent laboratory and if we hand in our tests before 9am, we will have the result around 2pm. This way you can detect positive cases faster and can isolate them.”

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Chris Marshall-Bell

Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.

Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.