AG2R Citroën rider Geoffrey Bouchard and Vegard Stake Laengen of UAE Team Emirates became the first riders to leave the 2022 Tour de France after testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday evening after stage 7.
Bouchard returned a positive antigen test taken at the team hotel after the stage at La Super Planche des Belles Filles and was immediately isolated from the rest of the riders and staff before leaving the race.
AG2R Citroën, which carries out antigen tests every three days in addition to the mandatory test rounds carried out by Tour organizers ASO, confirmed that the rest of the team returned negative tests on Thursday evening and Friday morning.
“During the stage, I didn’t feel well,” Bouchard said in a team statement. “It’s a huge disappointment because we had just arrived on my favorite terrain, the mountains.
“It was my first Tour de France and it’s sad to end it like this. I wish my teammates a lot of success and I send them all my strength for the rest of the Tour de France.”
AG2R team doctor Serge Niamke confirmed details of the team’s testing regimen and Bouchard’s positive test.
“Since the start, the AG2R Citroën team has carried out antigen tests every three days in addition to the tests carried out by the Tour de France organizers. The whole team – riders and staff – underwent an antigen test on Thursday evening or Friday morning, which resulted in negative tests for the whole group.”
“We have implemented a very strict protocol for months to guarantee the health of our riders and our management,” added team manager Vincent Lavenu. “I’m sad for Geoffrey, who we were counting on for the next few days. The Tour isn’t over, and we still hope to be at the top of the stages when we get to the mountains.”
Positive in the United Arab Emirates Team Emirates
Laengen similarly failed, initially showing symptoms on Friday evening before having a confirmed positive result with a PCR test on Saturday morning ahead of Stage 8.
“Vegard tested negative yesterday morning during the internal team’s routine testing protocol,” said UAE Team Emirates doctor Adriano Rotunno. “But he reported symptoms of sore throat late at night. The COVID-19 antigen test was positive and the diagnosis was confirmed by PCR test this morning.
“As per protocol, for his safety, that of the team and the peloton, he will be removed from the race.”
The starts from Bouchard and Laengen are the fifth and sixth of the race, after Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), Daniel Oss (TotalEnergies) and Michael Gogl (Alpecin-Deceuninck), who crashed on the cobbled stage 5, as well as Alex Kirsch (Trek-Segafredo), who left the race at stage 6.
Before the start of the Tour de France last Friday, several riders were late removed from the start list due to COVID-19. Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Samuele Battistella (Astana Qazaqstan) and Tim Declercq (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) tested positive for the virus the week before the start, while Israel-Premier Tech pilots Daryl Impey and Omer Goldstein had to miss the Tour as close contacts.
Jumbo-Visma sporting director Merijn Zeeman and a slew of QuickStep employees – including DS Tom Steels – also did not take part in the race after testing positive, although all are expected to travel to France after returning negative tests.
QuickStep-AlphaVinyl had more positive tests earlier this week, with two other sporting directors, Wilfred Peeters and Klaas Lodewyck, having to leave the race as a result.
Ahead of the Tour, the UCI announced updated COVID-19 guidelines in reaction to the renewed spread of the virus across Europe, including frequent testing during Grand Tours and a rule change that meant teams could stay in the race after several positive tests.
The “strongly recommended measures” introduced by the UCI include daily antigen testing for all riders and staff and, during the event, antigen testing to be carried out “if possible, daily but at least every two or three days”. for team members, UCI commissaires, UCI technical delegates and doping control personnel.
Monday’s rest day will bring the next round of testing at the race, with all team members – as well as all UCI staff listed above – ready to undergo antigen testing.