UCI relaxes COVID-19 exclusion rules at Tour de France

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Cycling’s governing body has relaxed the Tour de France’s COVID-19 exclusion rules on the eve of the race’s opening stage following complaints from teams that feared their riders would be unfairly excluded from the race.

After meeting with team officials, the UCI said Friday that a team won’t be automatically sent home if two of its riders test positive for the virus within a period of seven days as was initially planned. According to the revised protocol, it will be up to Tour de France organizers to decide whether to throw a whole team out of the race.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme said later Friday he was still waiting for French authorities to decide whether to allow organizers any leeway in making such decisions.

“In the case of two or more riders from the same team testing positive for COVID-19 within a period of seven days at a Grand Tour, the UCI will give the event organizer authorization to announce the withdrawal of the team for health reasons,” the UCI said.

Initially, the Tour’s COVID-19 protocol stipulated that teams would be expelled if two or more of their riders or staff tested positive for the virus within a seven-day span. Under the new rules that will also be implemented at the Spanish Vuelta and Giro d’Italia, staff members will not be counted.

Speaking with reporters, UCI president David Lappartient said the new protocol is different from the one devised by Tour organizers ASO, but stringent enough.

“We also told the teams that they have to be strict,” he said. “We want the Tour de France to start, but we want the Tour de France to finish. That’s the goal for all of us.”

Four staff members of the Belgian team Lotto-Soudal were sent home Thursday after “non-negative” coronavirus tests. The team said a mechanic and a member of the rider support staff returned “one positive and one suspicious result.” Both left the race bubble along with their roommates.

The UCI said the latest revisions “come from the desire to optimize the interpretation of a positive viral diagnostic test and confirm that it indeed corresponds with a recent coronavirus infection.”

In case of a positive result, the UCI also urged organizers to “do everything possible” to perform a retest and a blood analysis before the next stage.

“These complementary examinations will be a very useful additional element in the global medical assessment, which will make it possible to evaluate the contagious character or not of the rider (or team member),” it said.

The measure is aimed at avoiding false positive tests that could rule out healthy riders.

The UCI said team members who test positive during the race will be isolated and will have to leave if a second test cannot be performed in time.

Tour organizers have set up a mobile coronavirus lab that can produce results in two hours and handle 50 tests a day on race days. However, Prudhomme said he can’t guarantee a rider will be given the additional tests before he is removed from the race following an initial positive result.

German team Bora-Hansgrohe was among those who expressed concern after one if its riders first tested positive and then tested negative Tuesday, prompting the withdrawal of its entire squad from the one-day Bretagne Classic race.

“The adjustments made today to the UCI protocol have enabled us to find the right balance between the legitimate concerns of teams faced with the risk of exclusion and the vital preservation of the peloton’s health,” Lappartient said.

Giro d’Italia to start on former railway line in Abruzzo

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L’AQUILA, Italy — The 2023 edition of the Giro d’Italia will start with an individual time trial on a coastal cycle path that has been recreated from a former railway line in the region of Abruzzo.

At a ceremony in the Abruzzo capital of L’Aquila, race organizers announced that the Grand Tour will run from May 6-28 and begin with an 18.4-kilometer (11.4-mile) time trial on the Adriatic coast.

Almost the entire time trial will be on the spectacular Costa dei Trabocchi cycle path that hugs the coast line before a short climb to the finish in Ortona.

“I am excited at the idea of the Grande Partenza (Big Start) of the Giro in Abruzzo . It is a dream come true, especially with regard to the prologue on the Costa dei Trabocchi,” said Trek-Segafredo cyclist Dario Cataldo, who is from the region.

“I well remember that when the cycle path project was born and I saw the first tracks, I imagined the beauty of a Giro d’Italia passing along the route. It looked perfect.”

Stage 2 is a 204-kilometer (127-mile) leg from Teramo to San Salvo that is hilly in the first part but expected to end in a bunch sprint.

Stage 3 will also start in the Abruzzo region, in Vasto, but it will then head south and will be detailed when the full route is revealed on Oct. 17 in Milan.

The Giro will also return to the region for Stage 7, a daunting climb on the Gran Sasso d’Italia to Campo Imperatore. The high mountain stage, on May 12, will be the edition’s first finish above 2,000 meters.

Australian Jai Hindley won this year’s Giro.

Norway takes gold-medal lead at world road cycling titles

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WOLLONGONG, Australia – Soren Waerenskjold repeated Norway’s gold medal success at the world road cycling championships a day after Tobias Foss finished first in the elite men’s time trial.

Waerenskjold won the men’s under-23 time trial on the second day of the championships with a dominant performance. He clocked 34 minutes, 13.40 seconds over the 28.8-kilometer course to beat Belgian Alec Segaert by 16.34 seconds.

British rider Leo Hayter, the younger brother of elite rider Ethan Hayter, was 24.16 seconds off the pace for the bronze medal.

Foss beat a strong field to win the elite time trial, the biggest win of his career.

Norway has two gold medals, while Dutch ace Ellen van Dijk beat Australian Grace Brown to take out the women’ elite time trial.

The mixed relay time trial is set for Wednesday. The championships conclude on the weekend with the women’s road race on Saturday and the men’s on Sunday.