The Vuelta a España peloton has been put on alert after an Intermarché-Circus-Wanty rider tested positive for Covid-19 just a day before the race gets underway.
Belgian sprinter Gerben Thijssen was struck by the pandemic virus on the eve of his third participation at the Vuelta, and though UCI rules no longer state that a positive infection must result in withdrawal from a race, Thijssen and his team opted to send him home; he has been replaced by Simone Petilli, an Italian climber.
"It's really a pity that I have to leave this Vuelta before it even started," Thijssen said. "I was really ready, the team was really ready, but with the fever today and yesterday, it wouldn't have been a good decision to ride, so with the team we took the decision together not to ride. I will go home and rest up."
The news will alarm the Vuelta peloton who will remember that the race was badly hit by the virus 12 months ago, with leading riders like Simon Yates and Sam Bennett going home after becoming infected. At one stage in the race, some were wondering whether the race would even reach Madrid.
Come the third week, the situation calmed down, and though restrictions have eased further in 2023, Covid has continued to hit racing hard.
At May's Giro d'Italia 17 riders were forced to abandon after testing positive for Covid, including Remco Evenepoel who won the stage 10 time trial not knowing that he had been infected.
The Vuelta, like the Tour de France and other major races, have maintained some restrictions to help the limit the spread of the virus, with face masks mandatory in the team paddock and during media interviews.
Thijssen's positive will stress the race organisers who will be desperate to avoid a repeat of last year, even more so given the calibre of the startlist.
The race begins with a team time trial in city of Barcelona, and the first mountain-top finale comes as early as stage three, with a finish in Andorra.
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