Maybe a dumb idea: The Tour de France ‘COVID-gruppetto’

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There is growing concern over the impact that COVID could have over on the 2022 Tour de France. Riders are continuing to drop out despite the zero positive tests on the rest day, while signs of returning Tour normality such as the bus paddock re-opening are slowly being withdrawn once again.

Obviously, the health of the riders and everyone associated with the race is of paramount importance and secondary to that is the desire for the race to be decided by the strongest rider and not the contender that proved most adept at avoiding the virus.

It was while pondering this one day in the CyclingTips car on the drive between a stage start and finish that we came up with an idea, which is always dangerous.

The professional peloton isn’t exactly the most bio-secure environment. Fluids are easily transferred from person to person, and we mean all fluids. Spittle flying from mouths shouting orders to team-mates, the pressurised clearing of a nose by holding one nostril closed with a solitary finger. And that’s without getting into all the things that happen either side of each day’s stage.

So, and stay with us here, what about a ‘COVID-gruppetto’?

If you are feeling COVID-like symptoms, or have managed to test positive but without enough viral load to get kicked out of the race, there is a designated group on the road that riders must stay in. This group would ride between the peloton and the real gruppetto to ensure they make the time cut each day, but crucially would limit the amount of interaction that potentially COVID-positive riders would have with the rest of the peloton.

In theory it seems like an idea at least partially dipping its toe in the pool marked logic, but what do those in the actual bike race reckon?

“I don’t think so no,” BikeExchange-Jayco’s Chris Juul-Jensen is the first to shoot down our invention. “Once the race is on everyone is focused on the race, where the team leaders are…yeah, no.”

However, the next to roll past the mixed zone is Lotto-Soudal’s Florian Vermeersch.

“On paper it sounds great,” so far so good. “But I think you would always have guys who will deny they have symptoms and stay for as long as possible in the normal bunch. I think [the idea] would be cheated.”

DSM’s Chris Hamilton is the next to give his full, unequivocal (ok, maybe not) backing to the COVID-gruppetto.

“I guess so,” he begins before an important caveat. “You’d have to split up half the bus as well and all that sort of stuff.” In our defence, we can’t be expected to think of everything.

“I mean yeah I guess you could,” Hamilton continued, slowly buying into the idea. “It would make for a pretty hard day though depending on how many of you there are. If there are only two or three guys you might be in trouble.” A good point, the last thing you’d need when feeling under the weather is a hard day on the road in a small group.

So far, we’re 2-1 in the sample size of 3 out of the 160-odd riders in the race.

“I don’t think so, no way,” Arkéa-Samsic’s Connor Swift levels the score. “Just because of the GC…otherwise it’s just like a training ride…are you being serious or not?”

Well, kind of, maybe.

“I think if you do that you’re just here to finish the Tour de France.”

But what about the domestiques? It could be useful to keep them in the race while losing time.

“I suppose but I think if you do have COVID then it’s basically if you do have any problems it’s more sensible to take some time off and not do one of the hardest sporting events there is.”

Thank you, Connor, for being a voice of reason. Back to the drawing board it is.

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