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UCI relaxes COVID-19 exclusion rules at Tour de France

107th Tour de France 2020 - Team Ag2R La Mondiale - Training

NICE, FRANCE - AUGUST 28: Romain Bardet of France, Mickael Cherel of France, Benoit Cosnefroy of France, Pierre Latour of France, Oliver Naesen of Belgium, Nans Peters of France, Clement Venturini of France and Alexis Vuillermoz of France and Team Ag2R La Mondiale / Jersey / Detail view / during the 107th Tour de France 2020, Team Ag2R La Mondiale - Training / #TDF2020 / @LeTour / on August 28, 2020 in Nice, France. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

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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.