Tadej Pogačar took third on stage 8, adding four bonus seconds to his race lead. The Tour de France is going swimmingly for the defending champion, but there’s a little more anxiety in the UAE Team Emirates camp today after Vegard Stake Laengen tested positive for COVID-19 having felt symptoms arise overnight.
“It’s a big scare,” Pogačar said in Lausanne, looking rather less buoyant than we’re used to seeing him. “It’s the sport now. We test every Tour day, staff every second day.”
The 23-year-old’s team is now down to six support riders alongside the yellow jersey, every last one of them under more pressure than ever without Laengen.
“He was the big guy of the team, he was really strong, in good shape, pulling in the flat, climbs, everywhere,” said Pogačar. “He’s like a train in the team and it’s going to be hard without him. I hope we can manage with the seven riders to make it to Paris.”
With two riders recording DNS for stage 8 – AG2R-Citroën’s Geoffrey Bouchard also positive – the Tour de France organisation and teams are levelling up their precautions.
CyclingTips noted that security was tighter at the buses at the stage start in Dole, and it seemed many riders were refusing to get too close for autograph signings and selfies with fans.
Is Pogačar scared of getting COVID-19?
“Every day on the road, on the climbs, there are so many people screaming at you, cheering, which I like, but it increases possibility you get infected by viruses,” he said. “I hope this was it, that we don’t go home because of it and we will stay safe until the end.”
After its incredible spread at the Tour de Suisse, talk of the effect the virus could have on the Tour de France skyrocketed, and with infection rates increasing in France, COVID-19 is even being referred to as something of a rival for the overall favourites.
But Pogačar has no time for anthropomorphising the outbreak.
“Covid is not a rival, it’s just a virus that can affect things,” he said, matter-of-fact. “It can ruin all the Tour, but I think the rivals are from the other teams, from Jumbo, Ineos, others.”