Just 24 hours after Jonathan Vaughters’ EF Pro Cycling team suggested that the Giro d’Italia organisers bring the race to a unified halt on Monday’s second rest day to limit the risk of further cases of COVID-19 coronavirus, his own riders and staff have made it clear they want to continue to the finish in Milan. Giro Race Director Mauro Vegni confirmed that more tests will be done to try to identify any COVID-19 cases and ease concerns about the virus in the race.
Vegni revealed on Italian television in Monselice after stage 13 that 11 teams were tested on Thursday night and that all had tested negative. The remaining nine teams will be tested on Friday evening so results can be known before Saturday’s time trial.
Further PCR swab tests will be carried out on the second rest on Monday as per the UCI's COVID-19 protocol, with Vegni confirming at least one round of tests during the third week.
“We’re going to continue, doing tests on an almost-daily basis, so that we can reach Milan,” Vegni said. “It’s normal that a race caravan of 2,000 people that moves around Italy for 25 days will have some COVID-19 cases even if it’s in a protective bubble. They’re very low compared to normal life. We’ve never had the numbers that put the Giro in doubt.”
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Eight cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on the first rest day after Simon Yates’ positive in the opening week. Jumbo-Visma and Mitchelton-Scott have already left the race. Steven Kruisjwujk of Jumbo and Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb tested positive on Monday, but Matthews has confirmed he has since twice tested negative in follow-up tests.
EF Pro Cycling, in the letter written to the UCI along with Giro organisers RCS Sport and teams participating in the Giro, said they would leave the Giro if a case emerges amongst their riders and staff. The UCI rejected the EF's request to stop the race, but did address additional testing.
Vaughters felt his team’s letter has fallen on deaf ears, regretting that what he described as an attempt at collaboration will seemingly go no further. However, the request was considered divisive and even offensive by many in Italian cycling and the Giro d’Italia entourage.
“Perhaps the letter was sent from America with a nice beer on the table instead of someone being here to see the efforts their riders and staff are making,” Vegni said, clearly taking aim at Vaughters, who is in the USA and not at the Giro d’Italia. Vegni called for more unity in the sport and better understanding of the way everyone at the Giro d’Italia is trying to ensure the race continues safely.
“It’s natural that people can be scared, everybody’s health is important so I can understand the guys being worried and the team being worried. I’ve got a staff of 700 people who also have to live with this situation,” he said.
“But we’ve got to give clear answers that help people feel safe. We’ve done tests on the race organisation two or three times and we’re all negative. That doesn’t mean that we won't have cases, but so far the results assure us that we’re doing the right thing. I wish the teams would also transmit the same assurances to their riders and not be alarming."
After expressing his concerns on Thursday morning, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) also changed his views after Friday’s stage, offering a more reassuring tone.
“I spoke from the heart about my concerns. I spoke too soon, as I did not have the full facts yet at that time and made comments that could potentially harm RCS. I want to apologise for this,” he wrote on social media.
“Me feeling unsafe about Covid is a personal feeling that is normal in the current situation. I don’t feel unsafe during the races as I really think those are safe enough.”
EF Pro Cycling directeur sportif Fabrizio Guidi and road captain Simon Clarke both made it clear the team wants to stay in the race and reach the finish in Milan on Sunday October 25.
“Jonathan Vaughters is very concerned about the health of riders and staff. This letter was aimed at making sure we are being looked after as best as possible,” Clarke explained to Italian television on Friday morning.
“We did more tests last night (Thursday) and we were all negative. So as long as we are negative, we'll continue to race. We’re making sure that all the safety requirements are met and all the procedures are done. For now, it’s working. We're all doing what we can to protect the bubble. I think we’ll make it to Milan.”
Guidi suggested the letter overestimated the conditions on the race. He preferred a more conciliatory approach, showing his own affection for the Giro d’Italia.
“All the group here wants to race on and until Milan. We want to race as we have so far, with our hearts and the desire to win,” he told Italian television RAI. “We feel safe in the bubble, we have from the start. Of course there’s a pandemic but we feel safe and we want to carry on.”