Covid-19 was the story of the past two early seasons, and while the pandemic has not had quite the same stranglehold over the first few months of the cycling calendar in 2022, the last month has seen endemic illness decimate squads and wrench star riders from start lines.
Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico were witness to flu-like symptoms sweeping through the peloton, with only 59 riders finishing the already attritional Paris-Nice. Milan – San Remo followed with many star riders absent and now the problem sees no sign of abating at the Volta a Catalunya.
Simon Yates was the latest to drop out of the Spanish stage race before the start of stage four, and joins the likes of Jumbo-Visma’s Tom Dumoulin and Ineos Grenadiers’ Richie Porte on the pre-race contenders forced to abandon through illness.
Dumoulin climbed off with 70km to go on stage three, the Dutchman having already missed Strade Bianche from an apparent Covid-19 positive. Meanwhile, both Porte and Kwiatkowski’s exit meant a continuation of Ineos’ struggles with illness and a repeat of last year’s 1-2-3 on the final podium unlikely.
BikeExchange’s Yates had already been recovering from a “mild non-Covid illness” post-Paris Nice, sharing a tough day out on stage three alongside team-mate Michael Matthews, who was sick mid-stage and didn’t make it to the finish, some way to celebrate breaking his 575-day winless streak with the stage two victory.
While riders suffer, the growing sick bay is causing a headache for team managers too. Bora-Hansgrohe’s Ralph Denk estimates at least 19 of his 30 riders are now out injured or ill.
“We currently have twelve riders with either Covid or another upper respiratory tract infection,” Denk told Radsport. “There are also seven more who have been out for a longer period of time due to falls – with fractures or a concussion. Of the 30 racers in the squad, 19 are now injured. That’s modest.” Cyclingtakes also estimates 22 of Quick-Step AlphaVinyl’s 30 riders have been blighted by illness or injury just three months into the year.
“Actually, we didn’t start the season badly at all,” Denk continued, having already claimed five years this season. Now, his decimated squad will leave him wondering where the next one will come from. “But the last three weeks have been tearing us apart.”