'We just hope for the best, huh' - Covid's return impacts Giro d'Italia

Jumbo-Visma, Bahrain-Victorious and Trek-Segafredo have all been affected by the virus in the run up to the race

Primož Roglič
(Image credit: Getty Images)

To lose two riders due to Covid is misfortune. To lose a backup rider, who replaced one of those original picks, is evidence of a pandemic that never really went away.

On Tuesday, Jumbo-Visma announced that two of its original Giro d'Italia team were to miss the race due to Covid, with Tobias Foss and Robert Gesink being replaced by Jos van Emden and Rohan Dennis.

Two days later, the Dutch team was forced into yet another reshuffle as Van Emden was replaced by Sam Oomen in the lineup for the race, which starts on Saturday. The reason? You have guessed it: Covid.

For three riders to be out in such a short amount of time would be painful for any squad, but for Jumbo, the team of Giro joint-favourite Primož Roglič, it is almost panic stations. Not that the Slovenian himself is particularly ringing the alarm bell.

"At the end we have to be happy with the guys who have made it," Roglič told the press on Thursday. "The first step is to come here, and some more will follow in the next days. For sure, it's not the best, the thing you wish, that these things happen to you, but we will deal with it, we will find solutions. We go with the guys who will be here."

While the rest of the world has largely moved on from the pandemic, with mask wearing and controls largely down to personal choice, Covid has continued to make its mark on cycling, although hopefully we won't have to update the Giro d'Italia 2023 start list again before race day.

Testing and measures differ from team to team now, however, with the UCI's rules lifting the requirement for teams and personnel to provide a health pass, vaccination certificate or negative COVID-19 test before competition before the season.

"We are trying to take care of it already, but Covid is part of it [life] now," Roglič continued. "It's not a big deal. The thing is when you are sick, when athletes are performing on the highest level, you have a problem with it. All we can do is try to take care the best ways we can, with the things that we are doing already. We just hope for the best, huh. 

Jumbo is not the only Giro team affected by the virus. On Thursday, Bahrain-Victorious announced that Gino Mäder had tested positive, with the Swiss rider tweeting: "Most likely not going to announce my goals next year, let's see if Covid still manages to ruin my hopes then. For now, I'll rest and enjoy home.

Trek-Segafredo's Giulio Ciccone and DSM's Henri Vandenabeele are two other casualties from the virus. It will bring back memories of the 2020 edition, where Covid cases caused Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma to leave the race entirely.

"You have to take care of yourself, but it's not only from Covid, you could get normal Flu or sickness in general," Ciccone's Trek-Segafredo teammate Mads Pedersen reasoned on Thursday. "I take care of myself, and I do everything not to get sick, and hopefully that's enough to get all the way to Rome."

Roglič's biggest rival at the Giro, Remco Evenepoel, urged everyone within the race bubble to "pay attention and try not to infect each other", two days out from the race beginning.

"For sure I think we will act and handle it a bit like in the Vuelta [a España] again; wear some masks and just pay a bit more attention with, let's say, washing our hands, disinfectant, things like that," the Soudal Quick-Step rider said. 

"It's going to be again three weeks of full focus, and trying to keep the bubble as small as possible. Losing a few riders in the bunch before the race can be a message to everybody, not only riders, but staff members, members from the organisation, also you guys, the press, that everybody needs to be aware that the virus is still around.

"We all have to pay attention and try to not infect each other. So wear your mask if I see you on Saturday!"

For Geraint Thomas, he of 17 Grand Tours to date, it is not a particular concern, especially as "you can't control the uncontrollable". It might help that his team sponsor, Ineos, makes its own antibacterial hand gel.

"[I'm] not particularly concerned, no," the Ineos Grenadier veteran said. "It's kind of the way it is the last couple of years, innit?! Obviously we're super careful in the team and do everything we can but you can't control the uncontrollable. Sometimes it's unavoidable, so it is what it is and it's just life innit. 

"What's the point in stressing about it, man? Just wash your hands, stay away from people and get on with it no?"

Everyone - fans, riders, directeur sportifs, the Giro's organisers, RCS - will be hoping that Covid's impact has already been felt, but prepare for more virus-related action over the next three weeks.

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