A teammate of defending Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar has tested positive for Covid-19 and the team now faces three nervous days to see if others in the team fall ill.
Norway’s Vegard Stake Laengen, 33, who was often seen pulling at the head of the UAE Team Emirates train in headwinds, fell ill overnight despite testing negative on Thursday morning.
“He reported symptoms of a sore throat last night,” said team doctor Adriano Rotunno.
“The antigen test was positive and it was confirmed by a PCR,” he said.
Rotunno expressed concern that the virus may have spread within the team.
“We think he was infected from an outside source three to five days ago, which gave him time to infect other team members,” he said on Saturday before the team bus at the start line.
But Rotunno also revealed the extreme measures the team took to avoid infection.
“All drivers have their own room when they would normally share a room. They also all have their own masseur,” he said.
Laengen was withdrawn from the Tour of Slovenia last month when his flatmate Mikkel Bjerg tested positive.
Just ahead of the Tour, Matteo Trentin, a key member of Pogacar’s team, also retired from racing with Covid.
Pogacar is leading the race by 31 seconds over Jonas Vingegaard, with Ineos rider Geraint Thomas third over a minute behind but with 14 stages to go.
– second case –
Laengen is the second rider to be sent home following AG2R’s announcement on Saturday that its French rider Geoffrey Bouchard had also contracted Covid.
The 30-year-old Tour debutant, who suffered during stage seven, underwent an antigen test, which came back positive.
Bouchard – king of the mountains at the 2019 Vuelta a Espana and the 2021 Giro d’Italia – was immediately isolated from the rest of the team, whose tests, including those of his roommate Mikael Cherel, came back negative.
“I didn’t feel good during the stage,” said Bouchard.
“It’s a big disappointment because we just got to my favorite terrain, the mountains.
“It was my first Tour de France and it’s sad to end it like this.”
AG2R told AFP on Saturday: “The whole team returned negative tests on Thursday, we were exemplary in our testing.
“In the end we withdrew riders from the Tour of Switzerland, but cycling as a whole went through the protocols in an exemplary manner.”
Tour director Thierry Gouvenou said organizers were prepared for such an eventuality.
“We’ve seen the numbers (of infections) rise across France and we were put on alert during the Tour of Switzerland when 40 riders had to get off,” he said.
Half a dozen riders had to be replaced before the start of the Tour de France after testing positive for Covid.
Backroom members of the rival teams had to leave because they tested positive with Quick-Step for their third sporting director since it started in Copenhagen last week.
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