UCI relaxes COVID-19 exclusion rules at Tour de France

Cycling's governing body has relaxed its COVID-19 exclusion rules on the eve of the Tour de France opening stage, after complaints from teams that feared their riders would be unduly excluded from the race.

After meeting with team officials, the UCI said Friday that a team won't be automatically sent home if two of its riders test positive for the coronavirus as was initially planned.

According to the revised protocol, it will be up to Tour de France organizers to decide whether to throw an entire team out of the race.

"In the case of two or more riders from the same team testing positive for COVID-19 within a period of seven days at a Grand Tour, the UCI will give the event organiser authorisation to announce the withdrawal of the team for health reasons," the UCI said.

Four staff members of the Belgian team Lotto-Soudal were sent home Thursday after "non-negative" coronavirus tests. The team said a mechanic and a member of the rider support staff returned "one positive and one suspicious result." Both left the race bubble along with their roommates.

The UCI said the latest revisions "come from the desire to optimise the interpretation of a positive viral diagnostic test and confirm that it indeed corresponds with a recent coronavirus infection."

In case of a positive result, the UCI also urged organizers to "do everything possible" to perform a retest and a blood analysis before the next stage.

"These complementary examinations will be a very useful additional element in the global medical assessment, which will make it possible to evaluate the contagious character or not of the rider (or team member)," it said.

The measure is aimed at avoiding false positive tests that could rule out healthy riders.

The UCI said team members who test positive during the race will be isolated and will have to leave if a second test cannot be performed in time.

German team Bora-Hansgrohe was among those that expressed concern after one if its riders first tested positive and then tested negative Tuesday, prompting the withdrawal of its entire squad from the one-day Bretagne Classic race.

Initially, the Tour's COVID-19 protocol stipulated that teams would be expelled if two or more of their riders or staff tested positive for the virus within a seven-day span.

"The adjustments made today to the UCI protocol have enabled us to find the right balance between the legitimate concerns of teams faced with the risk of exclusion and the vital preservation of the peloton's health," UCI president David Lappartient said.