Avaunt! and quit my sight! let the earth hide thee!
Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;
Thou hast no speculation in those eyes
Which thou dost glare with!
No, not Tadej Pogačar’s quotes from his post-stage press conference, or even the more eloquent Wout van Aert, as exciting as that would be, but Macbeth when confronted with Banquo’s ghost in the Shakespeare play.
That’s what Covid has been at this Tour de France, the ghost at the feast, the biggest threat to the biggest bike race of the year, one of the only things that looks like upsetting Tadej Pogačar’s perfect ride so far.
All 165 riders left in the race will be tested when they arrive in Châtel on Sunday evening, with the results expected some time on Monday. It is not known yet how they will be announced, whether there will be a slow trickle of teams announcing their potential losses, or whether it will come in one big drop from cycling’s governing body, the UCI.
One thing is certain, there is Covid in the peloton, or at least there has been. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) became the latest casualty of the illness on Sunday morning, leaving the race, following Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE Team Emirates) and Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën) on Saturday.
There have been Covid cases among the extended race bubble too, with staff members heading home from the Tour due to the illness. It has not gone away, even if it feels like it in wider society at times.
The latest Covid positives led to the UCI issuing a statement reminding people of their responsibilities.
“The UCI and its partners remind all participants in road races on the UCI International Calendar that the rules introduced over the last two years in the interests of everyone’s health and safety continue to apply,” it read.
“These include the obligation to wear a mask, to maintain sufficient physical distance and to disinfect hands frequently.”
Those positives are only the symptomatic riders, however, with there likely to be a number of asymptomatic athletes in the peloton, as many have gone untested this week; this is what the PCR tests over the rest day will look to pick up. It will be a nervy time for all involved.
“I think when you see yesterday and today people not starting, I think now people are getting a bit scared,” Connor Swift of Arkéa-Samsic said ahead of stage nine. “We’ll see from the tests later today, and clearly it’s still present. It’s a case of still being cautious when we can.”
Under the new UCI rules introduced before the Tour, a team no longer has to head home if two riders test positive, and the door has been opened to asymptomatic people to remain in the race if they are not transmitting it, as is the case of Bob Jungels (AG2R Citroën).
While some teams have been testing themselves, using lateral flow tests, every few days, others have been simply going with the flow and waiting for the PCR.
“We’re not,” Ineos Grenadiers’ Tom Pidcock said. “There’s no point testing if you don’t have symptoms, it’s a normal illness. If you’re ill, you’re ill. It’s simple. It’s not like if you’ve got Covid and you’ve got no symptoms you go home. We test when we need to test.”
As someone who had Covid relatively recently, at the Tour de Suisse, Pidcock is feeling reasonably protected from the virus.
“I’m feeling quite comfortable about it, I think I’m alright,” he said. “It wouldn’t be great if it did kick off. At the same time, I’m safe, but it’s not right really.”
He joked: “Me and Adam were saying it’s me and Adam in Paris, one, two. Me, and Adam and [Aleksandr] Vlasov.”
Team DSM are using similar tactics. “We did the PCRs at the start, and if someone is showing symptoms or something like that, then we’re obviously testing,” Chris Hamilton explained. “Today, as soon as we finish the stage we’ll do the PCR and the staff get done tomorrow by the organisation as well.
“I think there was definitely concerns at the start of the Tour, because of how Suisse panned out and everything. It’s one of those things, there is stuff you can do about it I guess, but all we can do is be careful.”
The general classification contenders will be nervous about testing positive themselves, but also their key domestiques dropping from the race. This has already impacted race leader Tadej Pogačar, with Laengen going home on Saturday. Any more and the golden boy might be in trouble.
It increases the sense of jeopardy to wait for the organisation’s PCR test, but at the same time, what is the point of testing if there are no symptoms? Teams have no incentive to potentially find positives and be forced to send people home. In fact, it might be better that we are in a situation where only ill people are ejected.
“If you feel like you have symptoms, you do a lateral flow and see what happens,” Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) said. “I just do what told. I’m not too worried as I had Covid before. Let’s hope we limit as many people as possible that test positive. For piece of mind we might do another one on the rest day as well.”
“There’s nothing we can do, we’re just being cautious about using face masks and all this,” is what TotalEnergies’ Edvald Boasson Hagen had to say. “We hope for the best. We test what we have to do within the ASO rules.”
The tests on Sunday are compulsory, and could send shockwaves through the peloton. Or, everything might be pretty much fine. It is time to find out, and discover whether Banquo really is hanging around.