The Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise team did not start the Étoile de Bessèges on Wednesday after a member of the Belgian ProTeam’s management was suspected of having COVID-19.
In a short statement published on the team’s website, Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise said they would not race despite still waiting for the results of a PCR COVID-19 test.
“Due to the fact that one of the people in charge of the team may be infected with the Covid-19 virus, it was decided, pending the results of the PCR tests and as a precautionary measure, not to take the start out of respect for cycling, the organizers and the other participants,” the team said.
Just like during the 2020 season, riders and teams have to respect a strict UCI COVID-19 protocol to be able to race.
Riders and staff have to undergo PCR tests in the days before a stage race and are closely monitored for symptoms of the virus and the risk of a close contact with a positive case. A COVID-19 race doctor supervises all the testing and safety measures with the UCI.
Last year, a number of riders and teams were forced to leave races due to COVID-19 cases and other suspect cases, but the major races went ahead.
EF Education-Nippo‘s Jonas Rutsch was forced to miss Sunday’s GP Cycliste La Marseillaise after a pre-race COVID-19 test resulted positive.
However, he was given the green light to ride the Étoile de Bessèges after returning a second negative PCR test on Monday and he is part of the team’s six-rider line-up in the south of France.
Étoile de Bessèges was the only race Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise were due to race before Belgium’s Opening Weekend races at the end of February.
Lindsay De Vylder, Kenneth Van Rooy, Rune Herregodts, Sasha Weemaes, Jens Reynders, Thimo Willems and Fabio Van den Bossche were due to race, but they will now return home and most likely face extra COVID-19 tests.
The Étoile de Bessèges is a traditional early-season race for most French teams, but with other events in Europe and around the world cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has attracted a high quality field this year.
Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas are in the Ineos Grenadiers line-up, while Vincenzo Nibali, Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroën) and Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Nippo) are also riding.
Wednesday’s 141km first stage ends with an uphill finish to Bellegarde. Cyclingnews will have full coverage of all the action with news and interviews from each stage. Find out how to watch the race with our handy guide here.