A second rider has headed home from the Vuelta a España after contracting Covid, as the pandemic still looms large over the final Grand Tour of the year.
Jan Hirt of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert departed the race ahead of stage six, with his team confirming that he tested positive on Thursday morning.
The Czech rider follows Dan Hoole of Trek-Segafredo, who was forced to leave the Vuelta before stage five started.
Intermarché wrote on Twitter: "Unfortunately, Jan Hirt will not appear at the start of stage 6 after returning a positive test for COVID-19 this morning. See you back on the roads soon, Jan."
Ruben de Gendt, the team's doctor, said: "We closely monitored Jan Hirt the last couple of days until a test this morning showed the presence of Covid-19. Jan presented mild symptoms and was isolated from the group immediately. He will withdraw from this Vuelta."
Meanwhile, Trek said on Wednesday: "He's done a fantastic job in the opening days but unfortunately Daan Hoole will not start La Vuelta 2022 stage 5.
"Daan woke up with a slightly sore throat this morning and a subsequent rapid COVID-19 test returned a positive result. Get well soon Daan. We will miss you."
Both teams are down to seven riders as a result, and there are now 178 riders left in the race, with six riders having withdrawn from the Vuelta already.
Burgos-BH duo Manuel Peñalver and Angel Madrazo and AG2R Citroën's Dorian Godon both tested positive before the start of the race, and were therefore replaced. At July's Tour de France there were 17 positive tests in the peloton, which contributed to just 135 riders making the finish in Paris.
Covid protocols remain in place around the race, with mask-wearing still mandatory in areas; the Tour was proof that the pandemic has not ended for professional cyclists, and this has continued at the Vuelta.
There was compulsory testing prior to the race start, antigen testing on the rest days, and confirmatory PCR tests will be assessed by team, UCI, and race doctors, as happened at the Tour last month.
All teams, especially those with GC ambitions, will be hoping that Hoole and Hirt do not precipitate a sudden rush of Covid positives at the race.
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