Two AG2R Citroën riders have become the latest riders to leave the Vuelta a España due to Covid, evidence once again that the pandemic remains all too real for the professional peloton.
Jaakko Hänninen and Andrea Vendrame both tested positive for the virus on Friday morning, meaning that four riders out of the original 173 have now been forced out of the race due to the illness.
Already this week Jan Hirt of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert and Dan Hoole of Trek-Segafredo have both departed Spain, but this latest duo of positives will raise fears of Covid being very much a live issue in the pack.
It is redolent of what happened to AG2R at July's Tour de France, where the French team finished with just three riders out of the original eight, with four testing positive during the race.
It will be a blow to Ben O'Connor's drive for a good result on the general classification, as both Hänninen and Vendrame would have been useful allies for the Australian in the coming mountain stages.
The team's management will be hoping that this is the end of their Covid nightmare at Grand Tours this year. Before the race, Dorian Godon tested positive and so was replaced in the starting lineup.
Burgos-BH duo Manuel Peñalver and Angel Madrazo also caught Covid ahead of the Vuelta, and were replaced. At the Tour there were 17 positive tests in the peloton, which contributed to just 135 riders making the finish in Paris.
A statement from AG2R said: "Jaakko Hänninen and Andrea Vendrame underwent antigen tests this morning which resulted in positive tests. They will not take the start of the 7th stage."
The team's doctor, Dr Fabien Cardinal, said in a statement: "Since the start, the AG2R Citroën team has carried out antigenic tests every three days in addition to the tests carried out by the organizers of La Vuelta.
"The entire team - riders and staff - underwent an antigen test on Thursday evening or Friday morning, which resulted in negative tests for the test of group. We have implemented a very strict protocol for months to guarantee the health of our riders and our management."
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.
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