QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team manager Patrick Lefevere has described the possibility of Remco Evenepoel testing positive for COVID-19 while leading the Vuelta a España as a “doomsday scenario”, saying the Belgian team is doing everything possible to prevent cases of the virus in its Spanish squad.
23 riders have so far tested positive for COVID-19 at the 2022 Vuelta a Espana including Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers). On Friday Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates tested positive but was allowed to stay in the race due to having a low viral load.
Evenepoel is dominating the Vuelta a Espana as the race heads into a weekend of mountain stage in the south of Spain but Lefevere is worried that COVID-19 could derail his race. Pieter Serry tested positive last week and so QuickStep-AlphaVinyl are taking extra precautions.
Under UCI rules, all riders and staff in the race bubble will undergo COVID-19 testing on Monday’s rest day.
“We are not going to be evasive: a positive test from Remco is now the big doomsday scenario,” Lefevere said in his weekly column for Flemish newspaper Nieuwsblad.
“We’re doing everything we can to prevent that. After Pieter Serry’s positive test, roommate Rémi Cavagna ate alone for four days in a row. Since then all the riders are sleeping separately.”
Lefevere suggested the growing number of COVID-19 cases were sparked by the two plane transfers from the Netherlands in the first week and then to southern Spain last Monday.
“There is criticism of the Vuelta organization because they keep the public too little at bay and I am certainly not applauding them,” he said.
“But how do you organize that? It didn’t work in the Tour and there are also the cycling-crazy Basquesm. The biggest problem for me are the flights. First Utrecht-Bilbao and then also the Basque Country-Andalusia. Everyone sat close to each other, even on the bus on the way to the airport. You don’t have to look much further for the 22 positive riders.”
On Friday José Herrada (Cofidis) and Manuel Peñalver (Burgos-BH) questioned the UCI testing COVID-19 protocol, suggesting they were sent home from the Vuelta without knowing their viral load and so if they could continue.
Lefevere claimed that UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma have their own personal PCR testing machinery to monitor the viral loads of any positive cases and do convince the UCI that their riders can continue in the Vuelta.
“Juan Ayuso tested positive and remains in the Vuelta. You can call that selfish but I think that he will suddenly have a lot more space in the peloton,” Lefevere joked.
“UAE has its own ‘mini lab’ to perform PCR tests, as Jumbo-Visma apparently also has. I hear that from their team manager José Matxin and that Ayuso has a high Ct value. That means that he is not very contagious. We have not seen any documentation but I assume that their doctors also have a sufficient sense of honour and responsibility.”
“It was discussion that we also had at the last Tour: do we send everyone who tests positive home or do we take the viral load into account?
Lefevere attended the first part of the Vuelta and will likely return for the final stages to Madrid. He is slightly concerned that Evenepoel could crack and lose his 2:41 lead on Primož Roglič but is impressed by the young Belgian’s maturity and control.
“Remco continues to do very well, but we are still not going to sell the bear’s skin,” Lefevere said, using a Flemish proverb to warn about being over optimistic.
“I’m honestly holding my breath for everything that will happen in the next week of the race and beyond. In Belgium I see the first symptoms of the ‘hype’ reappear: interviews with the grandparents, great stories about the cherry drink he drinks after the finish.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the way Remco is currently dealing with all the media obligations associated with the red jersey. He takes his time, answers all questions in a relaxed manner. That’s very different from last year’s Giro, but at the moment he is also ten times better in his own skin.
“I fear an exodus of Belgian journalists to Spain. The typical questions start to come to me as well. Can he also become world champion this year? Will he ride the Tour next year? “For the record: I don’t know and if it depends on me not yet, no.
“No one is looking that far ahead right now. Day by day, we will keep repeating it until Madrid.”