Bennett and Hayter amongst dropouts as Covid continues to sap Vuelta peloton

Bennett returned a positive test with just an hour until his stage 10 time trial effort.

by Jonny Long

photography by Getty Images

As the individual time trial of the Vuelta a España’s stage 10 commences, a total of 15 riders have abandoned after testing positive for Covid-19, the most of any Grand Tour in 2022.

With 27 riders withdrawn after just over a week of racing, it’s on track to also have the most dropouts of any Grand Tour this year. The Giro d’Italia only had 27 the whole race, the all-important Tour had 41. As we head into September, riders will only grow more tired after a long season. Illness and crashes taking their toll as the last Grand Tour racing of 2022 heats up after a dazzling start.

Following the first rest day, eight riders failed to take the start ramp for the race against the clock from Elche to Alicante. Not all of them were due to Covid, but the likes of Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) were the two headline names leaving the race after contracting the virus. The Irishman’s positive test came so late that he was getting ready to warm up for his time trial effort.

“Unfortunately Covid has caught up to him,” Bennett’s teammate Ryan Mullen said before his descent down the start ramp. “It’s a massive shame. Sam is gonna be disappointed. He deserves to be here, he’s put the work in, and he’s shown he’s back to his best. I’m sure he would have won the green jersey.”

Bennett’s withdrawal certainly makes things easier for Mads Pedersen, who also had designs on the points classification. Bennett will be happy he got his business done early, picking up two stage wins to quiet the doubters over his status as a top-level sprinter.

Quick-Step AlphaVinyl have also had a brush with Covid as they look to take the general classification’s red jersey on the shoulders of Remco Evenepoel all the way to Madrid after Pieter Serry tested positive. Now Movistar, with the second place Enric Mas, have seen Mathias Norsgaard contract the virus. Jumbo-Visma have also had dropouts, Edoardo Affini and crucially Sepp Kuss, both due to other illnesses, but nevertheless a huge blow to Primož Roglič’s aim at a fourth overall title.

These Covid cases are a reminder that the coronavirus pandemic isn’t over just yet, even as the world learns to live with it. The 2022 season has, thankfully, been a far leap from the wrecked 2020 campaign. At the summer’s Tour we saw riders test positive but remain in the race if they proved to be noncontagious. Yet how teams, riders and the wider world of professional cycling decides to deal with Covid long-term, or for how long they will continue to accept Covid-positive withdrawals, remains a question currently without an answer.

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