Mauro Vegni believes that Simon Yates’ positive test for COVID-19 has demonstrated the value of the rapid testing system in place at the Giro d’Italia, but the race director acknowledged that rest day testing of all teams and staff will provide a clearer assessment of the effectiveness of the race ‘bubble.’
Yates left the Giro ahead of stage 8 after testing positive for coronavirus on Friday evening. His Mitchelton-Scott team had requested a rapid test provided by race organiser RCS Sport after Yates reported a headache after the finish of stage 7 in Brindisi. When that returned a positive reading, Yates underwent a PCR test, which confirmed the initial diagnosis.
“Of course, we’re sorry for the loss of another important rider but this is the first case in twelve days, so we’re serene. It shows that the bubble works and our controls are efficient,” Vegni said in an appearance on RAI’s Processo alla Tappa programme at the stage finish in Vieste on Saturday afternoon.
“If we had followed the UCI protocol, we would have had to send his sample to Milan this morning and wait for a response, and Yates would have been able to start the stage. Instead, with our rapid testing, we were able to resolve the situation and maintain our bubble.”
The rest of Mitchelton-Scott’s riders and staff were tested for COVID-19 on Friday evening, with no further positive cases reported. The team remains in the race, though unlike at the Tour de France, Mitchelton-Scott would not have been automatically excluded from the Giro even in the event of a second COVID-19 case.
“They were tested three times to be certain, because having just one positive rider in a team left us a bit perplexed,” Vegni said. “We wanted to repeat the test several times. But I repeat: the results of their tests were negative every time we did them.”
The Giro breaks for its first rest day on Monday and all of the riders and staff on the race will undergo their next round of mandatory PCR testing, with all results to be delivered before the start of stage 10 in Lanciano on Tuesday.
“We tested Yates because his team asked for him to be tested, otherwise we wouldn’t have known. On Monday there will be general, planned tests, where we’ll test the athletes and staff. This will be the first important test to understand the health of the bubble,” said Vegni, who told RAI that the UCI had insisted RCS Sport carry out PCR testing rather than rapid tests.
“On Sunday evening, ten of the teams will be tested and the samples will be sent to Milan during the night. Then on Monday morning, the rest of the teams will be tested, and we’ll have the results by Tuesday morning because we can’t run the risk of letting someone start and then finding out afterwards they had a problem.”
A shorter Giro?
While the PCR tests on Sunday and Monday will detail the bill of health within the moving citadel of the Giro, events beyond the walls may yet impinge on the race’s progress towards its finale in Milan on October 25.
On Saturday, Italy reported an additional 5,724 confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the previous 24 hours, its highest level in one day since the end of March. Concerns have also been expressed about the risk of snow in the high mountains in the third week, but Vegni insisted that the weather conditions would not prevent the Giro from reaching Milan.
“It would only happen if important authorities prohibited us from going on, because we want to go to Milan and that’s what we’re aiming at,” said Vegni. “A shorter Giro is something we can only be forced to do. We’ve set out with the intention of going to Milan and it seems to me that all of the Giro caravan – teams included – wants to get there.”
On Friday, ASO announced that Paris-Roubaix, scheduled for October 25, had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vuelta a España (October 20-November 8) remains on the calendar, even though a state of emergency has been declared in Madrid due to the spread of COVID-19.
“I’ll tell you the truth, I’d be worried if I was in the place of my friend [Vuelta director] Javier Guillen,” said Vegni. “But I think they have also put a mechanism in place so they can be tranquil and secure. If nothing particularly extraordinary happens at the national level, I think they could do it.”