BARCELONA: The Spanish Vuelta cycling race starts on Tuesday amid tight health restrictions in the hopes of avoiding the coronavirus infections that have knocked some riders, including top contenders, out of the Giro d’Italia.
Primoz Roglic is back to defend his title weeks after he lost the Tour de France on the final competitive stage. Two-time champion Chris Froome will be his main challenger in his final grand tour for Ineos, formerly Team Sky, before he joins Israel Start-Up Nation next season. Thibaut Pinot, Alejandro Valverde and Johan Esteban Chaves are also among the contenders.
Despite the strong lineup, most of the focus will be on the success of the Vuelta’s health protocols.
The Vuelta is getting under way before the Giro finishes next weekend. The two grand tours, like the Tour de France, were postponed because of the pandemic, and the tight calendar forced the Vuelta and Giro to overlap.
The Tour finished without any infections except for race director Christian Prudhomme. The Giro, however, has lost two full teams to the virus. Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma withdrew from the Italian race last week following a series of positive results from the first rest day. Overall contenders Simon Yates and Steven Kruijswijk were among those who tested positive.
With Spain struggling to contain its own resurgence in cases, Giro director Mauro Vegni said last week “seeing the numbers in Spain, I would be very worried for the Vuelta if I was in (race director) Javier Guillen’s shoes.”
Guillen has tried to reassure the Vuelta participants and staff that the race can be held in safe conditions, following the example of the Tour. Both the Tour and the Vuelta are run by the same company.
“We have worked together on the protocols and exchanged information during the Tour,” Guillen told Spanish sports daily Mundo Deportivo. “The measures taken during the Tour worked to stop COVID-19 and allowed the race to start and finish. I don’t have any information from the Giro.”
All riders and staff for the teams and the race underwent tests on Sunday, with only two staff members testing positive — one from Bahrain-McLaren and another from Team Sunweb. Organizers said 498 tests were conducted, and more would be performed on Monday.
The Vuelta will follow the same procedure as the Tour of repeating the tests on the race’s two rest days.
One difference from the Tour is that at the Vuelta a team will be asked to leave the race if two riders test positive, as opposed to two team members, including staff, at the Tour.
The Vuelta has taken several steps that it hopes will keep the riders healthy and the race going until it reaches Madrid.
The public is encouraged not to gather at finish lines, and organizers will cut off access to the mountain passes that are popular gathering spots for fans to cheer the riders on the grueling ascents. The race is sending the message out on social media asking its fans to stay at home and watch the race from television this year.