Who wants to follow Rafał Majka?
Nobody, that's who.
Nobody, that's who.
The way the Tour de France peloton avoided Rafał Majka’s back wheel you’d think he grabbed a pair of decade-old translucent bib shorts this morning. You can hardly blame them, of course. The guy has COVID.
Majka’s confirmed COVID positive came on Tuesday morning, but was accompanied by the news that a PCR test had shown viral loads low enough allow him to continue to race. It was the same situation as Bob Jungels just before the Tour kicked off. And so race he did.
“We were sat behind Rafa and then we swung out, we don’t want to be behind him,” Geraint Thomas said after the stage. “Then Jumbo went behind him and they did the same thing. Everyone was laughing about that a bit.”
It was as if Majka had two imaginary rapid test lines hovering over his helmet. Even Majka’s own teammates seemed to be avoiding the perceived danger zone whenever possible. UAE lined him up behind Tadej Pogačar for much of the stage, pulling him forward only when the supply of domestiques dwindled in the final kilometers.
Most riders, when probed on their risk tolerance here at the Tour, give verbal versions of a shrug. It feels out of their hands. They do what they can. UAE, for example, has riders in separate rooms this Tour. “We take really good precautions,” Pogačar said. “We keep hygiene really high.”
That hasn’t been enough. UAE has now lost two of its high-risk riders, those who had never had COVID prior to this Tour, in George Bennett and Vegard Stake Laengen. Majka could easily have been the third to go.
“It’s a shame for them,” Thomas said of UAE’s positives. The Ineos rider is in favor of such positives staying in the race, even though he might swing out of their wheel.
“I am yeah,” he said. “I think, as you say, not a big viral load anyway, we’ve all had it before, we’ve all had jabs.”
There is probably a point, somewhere in the not-too-distant future, where riders and teams begin to rebel against testing in bike racing at all. Thomas’ sentiment is shared widely. They will demand to race through illness as they always have. For now, though, there is a combination of levity and acquiescence with a dash of foreboding in the Tour de France peloton.
France is a global epicenter of current COVID cases; a rider or two disappears almost every morning, yanked from the race in the night. Here in the press room, journalists vanish for days only to return after isolation. Thousands of fans line the roads. Majka is low on the list of peloton worries, two little rapid test lines or one.