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Pogacar’s Tour de France dominance challenged by COVID-19

109th Tour de France 2022 - Stage 10

MEGEVE, FRANCE - JULY 12: Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia and UAE Team Emirates - Yellow Leader Jersey competes during the 109th Tour de France 2022, Stage 10 a 148,1km stage from Morzine to Megève 1435m / #TDF2022 / #WorldTour / on July 12, 2022 in Megeve, France. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

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MEGEVE, France - The coronavirus could well be the biggest threat to Tadej Pogacar’s dominance at the Tour de France.

The two-time defending champion from Slovenia has been the dominant rider of the peloton since the start of the race, but the coronavirus is playing havoc within his team.

Pogacar lost another teammate on Tuesday when George Bennett was forced out before Stage 10 following a positive coronavirus test.

Bennett, a New Zealander who rode in support of Pogacar with the UAE-Emirates team and was set to help him through the mountains, was tested on the rest day Monday after showing symptoms of the coronavirus, team doctor Adrian Rotunno said.

“He . . . returned a positive result,” Rotunno said. “Therefore he will not start today.”

UAE-Emirates Team officials later announced that Rafal Majka also tested positive for the virus but remained in the race.

“Rafal Majka . . . returned a positive result this morning,” Rotunno said. “He is asymptomatic and analyzing his PCR found he had a very low risk of infectivity.”

The UAE-Emirates team said it reported Majka’s case to the International Cycling Union (UCI) medical team, which authorized the rider to start the stage.

Majka is a strong climber and it will be a big loss for Pogacar if his domestique is eventually forced to abandon as the peloton prepares to tackle two daunting Alpine stages including a finish at L’Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.

Bennett was the second rider from the UAE-Emirates to leave the race because of a positive test after Vegard Stake Laengen last week.

Bennett was 32nd in the general classification.

His withdrawal was announced a day after the UCI said no riders tested positive for the virus during mandatory testing of the entire peloton before Monday.

Team BikeExchange-Jayco also announced the withdrawal of a rider on Tuesday after Australia’s Luke Durbridge tested positive before Stage 10.

“Durbridge has very mild symptoms,” the team said.

The peloton tackled a 148-kilometer route on Tuesday from Morzine to Megeve in the Alps. Pogacar kept the yellow jersey with an 11-second overall lead over Lennard Kamna. Jonas Vingegaard was in third place, 39 seconds off the pace.