Tadej Pogačar takes a selfie during the teams presentation for the 2024 Tour de France.

Pogačar’s COVID-19 brush shows there are no guarantees at the Tour de France

The presumptive favorite will still take the start, but the virus has forced several riders out of the race before it’s even begun.

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 27.06.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Tadej Pogačar was matter-of-fact about acknowledging his recent bout of COVID-19 during a pre-Tour de France training camp. “It was just like a cold and really fast,” he said at his pre-race press conference on Thursday. He professed to be unworried, saying the episode, roughly 10 days ago, hadn’t materially affected his preparation. “I stopped training for one day, then did some rollers inside, then when I was not sick anymore I could ride outside,” he said.

While Pogačar said that, due to a previous case and the immune response from it, he thinks COVID is “not that serious anymore,” Sepp Kuss and Tao Geoghegan Hart might beg to differ. Kuss, the Vuelta a España winner and key lieutenant for two-time Tour winner Jonas Vingegaard, caught COVID during the recent Critérium du Dauphiné and hadn’t sufficiently recovered to be named to Visma-Lease a Bike’s Tour team. Geoghegan Hart’s Lidl-Trek team cited the illness and injury in ruling him out of the race. And his teammate, Mads Pedersen, and Groupama-FDJ leader David Gaudu also had run-ins with the virus this month. They’ll take the start, but with some question marks.

2024 marks the second year in a row that the virus has upended Grand Tour team rosters even as the crisis phase of the pandemic has ended. Last year, Jumbo-Visma saw its pre-Giro d’Italia roster in flux when three of its selected riders, Robert Gesink, Tobias Foss and Jos van Emden, caught COVID and had to miss the race. This year, a series of subvariants are said to be more transmissible and better at evading vaccines, although reduced reporting worldwide has made data less available.

We’re a long way from the days of mandatory testing and rider quarantines like in 2020 and 2021. But Visma isn’t taking any chances ahead of the 2024 Tour. Riders and staff wore face masks while traveling to the race and will continue to do so in crowded environments. The team will do rapid-test screening daily, and even brought a more sensitive PCR testing machine along; according to Wielerflits, Kuss had tested negative several times before a positive test came back. Anyone who shows even slight symptoms of respiratory illness will be immediately isolated.

It’s not known if other teams will follow suit. With less than 48 hours to go before the 2024 Tour kicks off in Florence, teams are hoping that any positives that follow happen in time to slot in a replacement rider if needed (teams are allowed up to two substitute riders, who for medical reasons only can be swapped in up to the sign-in for the opening stage). Once the race gets going, it’s anyone’s bet whether the GC will be decided among the riders alone, or if an unwelcome interloper will play a role.

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