Riders, team staff and journalists at the UAE Tour would have started going to bed on Thursday night expecting to wake up contemplating which sprinter would take victory on the fast, flat finish of stage six.
Instead, they woke up to messages telling them the race had been cancelled and they would all be tested for coronavirus after two team members were believed to have been infected.
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Riders have been asked not to talk to the media and teams and organisers say they have no further information than anyone else as the situation is now in the hands of the UAE’s Ministry of Health. All that people inside the hotel can tell us is how the events have unfolded over the past 12 hours.
“I went to bed at about 11pm and could see something was brewing but it didn’t really occur to me that it was coronavirus,” journalist and broadcaster Matt Rendell, who is working at the race, told Cycling Weekly.
“[Race organisers] Mauro Vegni and RCS employees were sort of all milling around [the night before] and somewhat agitated. But as there’s a time difference between the Arabian Peninsula and Europe you will have probably heard the news before I did.”
What followed next after waking to the news was “quite a long while of no news or information”. Some riders and team staff say they were already tested the night before and now just have to wait for their results.
After a while Rendell got up, showered, dressed, called home to let people know what was happening, and with no word of food being delivered to rooms there wasn’t much else to do. So after an hour of waiting, he made his way down for breakfast.
Instead of taking the lift he walked down the stairs, which took you into the basement where the gym and spa were closed off. Making his way back up, the rest of the hotel was normal, he chatted with others working on the race at breakfast like usual. Spirits were high, with lots of laughing and joking due to the somewhat strange circumstances they had all found themselves in.
They were then told to stay in their rooms and lunch boxes would be brought up. At the time of speaking to him, Rendell was still waiting to be tested but says four of his colleagues had already been tested and were asked to bring their passports with them. They were also asked to not bring any recording equipment or take photographs as a sign of respect to the medical staff just trying to do their jobs.
“I don’t see anything suspicious or creepy in that at all,” says Rendell, who adds the situation has so far been handled well by race organisers and the authorities.
“The reaction here was incredibly swift, I’m very impressed by the degree of readiness for it,” Rendell said. “Before this was even on the horizon Mauro Vegni had spoken very frankly and honestly about the possible need to cancel bike racing events so I think he’s also done a great job and proven himself to be a responsible director, so hats off to him and the UAE.”
Meanwhile, riders, team staff and media will have to wait for their results, which could come through at any time. Journalist Sophie Smith says she was told it would take six hours to complete the testing of the 600 people involved in the race and that results could then be expected six hours after that.
One team said for now they’re still upbeat and will just have to hope for the best. If the situation does take a turn, however, they’re already planning what to watch during their Netflix marathon.