ROME (AP) — The Giro d’Italia was thrown into chaos Tuesday when two full teams, another overall contender and one more elite rider withdrew from the cycling race following a series of positive tests for the coronavirus.
The Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma teams left the race before Stage 10.
“Clearly we’re losing key pieces of the Giro. The important thing now is to reach Milan,” race director Mauro Vegni said, referring to the scheduled finish of the event on Oct. 25.
Four Mitchelton-Scott staff members tested positive. That came after Mitchelton-Scott team leader Simon Yates withdrew before Saturday’s eighth stage after also contracting COVID-19.
Dutch contender Steven Kruijswijk of Jumbo-Visma and Australian rider Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb also tested positive amid 571 exams for all riders and staff members coinciding with Monday’s rest day.
Kruijswijk and Matthews were withdrawn from the event.
Then Jumbo-Visma announced minutes before the stage started that it was withdrawing the rest of its team, too. Still, the stage started with the 20 remaining teams and 145 remaining riders.
“We all have been in contact with (Kruijswijk) for the past days,” Jumbo-Visma sports director Addy Engels told RAI state TV. “So the risk of passing it through to someone else has been there for several days. We are not going to keep taking the risk.”
In addition, one staff member for the Ineos Grenadiers team and one staff member for AG2R-La Mondiale came back positive and were put into isolation.
Still, Vegni rejected speculation that the race might be stopped prematurely.
“It’s like in normal life, the more tests you do the easier it is to find positives. The number (of positives) is still relatively low. We’re optimistic,” Vegni said. “At this point there’s zero risk, because I don’t see elements that would require the Giro to be stopped."
Italy has been hovering around 5,000 new coronavirus cases per day, prompting the government to consider more restrictions after making masks mandatory outdoors last week.
The Giro was already rescheduled from its usual May slot because of the coronavirus pandemic. Stage 10 was being raced in the central Abruzzo region, over a 177-kilometer (110-mile) leg from Lanciano to Tortoreto.
Vegni has suggested that the race won’t have a winner if all 21 stages are not completed.
“This morning, all of the teams with positive cases were given new, rapid tests and we’ll do that again tomorrow,” Vegni said. “We’ve performed nearly 1,500 tests and frankly it’s impossible to do more than that."
Mitchelton-Scott general manager Brent Copeland said the team's positives came back after a third round of tests in three days.
“As a social responsibility to our riders and staff, the peloton and the race organization we have made the clear decision to withdraw,” Copeland said. “Thankfully those impacted remain asymptomatic or with mild symptoms. ... We are now focused on safely transporting them to areas where they are most comfortable to conduct a period of quarantine."
Kruijswijk stood 11th overall, 1 minute, 24 seconds behind race leader João Almeida. He's had three career top-10 finishes in the Giro.
“Within the team we take a lot of measures to avoid contamination. And I just feel fit. I can’t believe I got it. It is a very big disappointment to get this news," Kruijswijk said. "It is a pity that I have to leave the Giro this way.”
Matthews was not in overall contention — he was nearly an hour behind Almeida — but he is a punchy rider and strong sprinter who was aiming for stage victories. Matthews has won a total of eight stages in the three Grand Tours — the Giro (2), Tour de France (3) and Spanish Vuelta (3).
Sunweb said Matthews “is currently asymptomatic, feels healthy and after receiving the results early this morning, he is now in quarantine.” The team added that all of its other riders and staff members returned negative tests.
Matthews had three top-five finishes in this year’s race, including a second-place result in Stage 6 behind Arnaud Démare.
“Disappointed that this is the way the Giro ends for me after a fantastic first week with the team," Matthews wrote on Twitter. "For now, I’ll begin my isolation and monitor things closely. Hoping to make a full recovery and get back racing soon.”
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