“The team was notified of one positive result of a member of its staff from the round of tests conducted on Sunday evening, 21st of February,” read a statement from race bosses ahead of stage 2, Monday.
“Upon receiving the results, the person immediately went into isolation, and all those who came into contact with this person are self-isolating, in compliance with the protocol measures put in place by the race organizers and UAE Health Authorities. All team members will undertake further tests in the coming days, while they remain in isolation.”
The news makes for a stark throwback to the 2020 UAE Tour, which was shuttered after just five stages as coronavirus rampaged through the peloton in what was one of pro cycling’s first encounters with the pandemic.
Unlike last year, however, pro cycling has become well adapted to racing through the health crisis. Last summer and autumn, competition played out “behind closed doors” as teams existed in isolated bubbles and underwent regular coronavirus tests both before and during competition.
UAE Tour officials rolled forward and reinforced last year’s sanitary measures for the Emirati race this week, which saw riders arrive into the nation on two specially-chartered flights from Europe. The success of the regular testing and self-isolation protocol of 2020 – measures that saw Jumbo-Visma and Mitchelton Scott withdraw midway through the Giro d’Italia – were put into the spotlight in tracing the COVID-positive in the Alpecin-Fenix bubble Sunday night.
Race organizers RCS Sport will be hopeful that the early detection of the Alpecin-Fenix positive will prevent the type of widespread outbreak that closed down its race and left teams and media locked down in Abu Dhabi hotel rooms last spring.
Riders will similarly be on edge. Having seen winter races in Australia and South America close down due to COVID complications, the peloton has been competing like every race may be the last as the pandemic continues to clutch much of Europe. Last week, the UCI announced that scores of races had already been pulled from the 2021 calendar or requested alternative dates later in the year.
Although the prompt departure of Alpecin-Fenix from the race may mitigate the further spread of coronavirus through the UAE Tour, it could have wider impacts on van der Poel as he builds toward the classics.
The Dutchman was slated to start his program of one-day races at the Strade Bianche on March 6 as he builds toward a Tour of Flanders defense and challenge for Paris-Roubaix. With the Italian race less than two weeks away, van der Poel’s participation will pivot on the length of his self-isolation and any blockages on him being able to return to Europe. Time in quarantine will also impact the form that he carries into his classics program.
Alpecin-Fenix and UAE Tour organizers have yet to provide further updates on the situation. Stay tuned to Velonews.com for further updates.