17 Giro-E police test COVID positive, De Gendt “starting to feel unsafe”

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The Giro d’Italia is walking a tightrope. On the same day the entire Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma teams left the race following COVID positives, 17 motorcycle police officers tasked with escorting the Giro-E ebike race tested positive as well. Riders like Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt are beginning to speak out, questioning the effectiveness and thoroughness of the Giro’s safety measures.

“I have to be honest, my head is not really in the race after the news of the 17 infected police officers,” said De Gendt, who finished third overall at the Giro in 2012. “There have been more than ten cases and yesterday I heard several riders coughing. It’s the cold season, but in the long run, you can’t concentrate anymore.”

“Some riders prefer not to start, others do. Everyone is free to do so. I’m one of the riders who would rather not start. Everyone chooses for themselves.”

The Giro d’Italia issued a press release Thursday stating that the 17 infected officers, part of the Polizia Stradale, only “concern personnel exclusively engaged in the escort at the Giro-E, an event with organization, logistics, hotels, timetables and starting locations completely separate from those of the Giro d’Italia.”

The Giro-E uses the same finish lines but runs on shortened stage routes, with different start lines than the regular Giro. All police escorts associated with the Giro have tested negative for COVID-19, according to the race organizer RCS.

The Giro-E police cases were identified Monday when the race was in Abruzzo. The officers have been placed in quarantine in a hotel in Francavilla a Mare, according to a report in Italian news agency ANSA.

Riders are speaking out about the protocols, or lack thereof, that have been in place through the Giro. Jos van Emden, part of the Jumbo-Visma squad that pulled out after Monday’s rest day, told the Cycling Podcast that the problems began right from the race’s start in Sicily.

“It already went wrong in the first hotel we were in,” he said. “We were there with four or maybe five teams. That’s not a problem because they take care of the health of the team, but the police and the motos were there, the Shimano neutral service, and normal people were there all eating from the same buffet.”

Giro race director Mauro Vegni told Italian broadcaster RAI that he wants the race to make it to it finish in Milan. “I’d say at any price, excluding any major or medical problems,” he said.

Riders like Peter Sagan have said they intend to stay in the race as long as it continues. But De Gendt voiced the concerns of many riders, questioning whether RCS can keep them safe and whether safety concerns are being weighed properly against commercial concerns.

“If you stop, it’s over. But you can continue until it’s too late,” De Gendt said. “Do I feel unsafe? It’s going the wrong way. It’s not so much for myself as for my family. I don’t want to infect anyone. I’m concerned about that.

“I thought it was much safer in the Tour. I never felt unsafe there at any point. But I have the feeling that the organization is hiding things and giving it a twist. There is a lot of money involved and for sponsors, it is very important that we go to Milan. They are waiting for the government to make a decision and those decisions come too late.”

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