Mark Cavendish will line up at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday despite saying at the weekend that he may have raced for the final time. The Daily Telegraph understands the plan is still for the British rider to start in all the forthcoming classics, assuming they run. That is by no means certain with Covid-19 infection rates rising across Europe. A spate of positive tests threw the entire Giro d’Italia into doubt.
A superb solo victory by Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in Tortoreto – the Slovakian’s first win of any description since last year’s Tour de France – eventually provided a thrilling finish to the day in Italy. But the race could well be on the brink of cancellation. Two teams withdrew on Wednesday amid questions over the organisers’ Covid-19 protocols.
Mitchelton-Scott, who lost their British leader Simon Yates, one of the pre-race favourites, to Covid-19 last weekend, had four more staff members test positive in the latest round of testing.
The Australian team took the decision to withdraw their team en masse, citing their “social responsibility”. As did Jumbo-Visma after Steven Kruijswijk, another of the race’s big general classification contenders, returned a positive test. Jumbo-Visma took their decision very late, their team bus the only one not to leave the paddock ahead of the start of stage 10 from Lanciano to Tortoreto.
With Michael Matthews (Sunweb) also returning a positive test, as well as staff members at Ineos Grenadiers and AG2R-La Mondiale, there have been questions asked of the organisers’ protocols. Jos van Emden (Jumbo-Visma) told the Cycling Podcast on Monday that the organisation should carry some of the blame for the spate of positives.
“It already went wrong in the first hotel,” Van Emden said. “There were four or five teams in there, police moto riders, Shimano Neutral Service and members of the general public. All eating from the same buffet.”
Riders in the Giro are supposed to stay in a biosecure bubble when not out on the road, just as they did for the Tour de France last month. However, the bubble is not proving as effective at the Giro. No rider tested positive at the Tour, perhaps because two positive tests from any team within one week would have triggered the ejection of that team from the race. No such rule was put in place for the race in Italy.
The country has seen a rise in coronavirus cases, with a post-lockdown record 5,456 people registered last Saturday. The pattern is repeating across Europe forcing local authorities and organisers to cancel races, such as Holland’s Amstel Gold Race, which had been scheduled for Saturday, and Paris-Roubaix, which was due to be raced on Oct 25.
There had been speculation that all of the postponed spring classics could be in doubt, which may have contributed to Cavendish’s emotional response following Gent-Wevelgem at the weekend, when he said that race could be his last. Cavendish may have believed the rest of the programme was going to be cancelled. Either way, the 35-year-old’s tearful admission prompted an outpouring of goodwill on social media for the Bahrain-McLaren rider, with many fans expressing a desire to see Cavendish race again so that he can be given the send-off he deserves after a difficult few years that have seen him suffer from crashes, a debilitating virus and mental health issues.
It remains unclear whether he will, in fact, retire. Rod Ellingworth, the Bahrain-McLaren manager, said at the weekend that talks were continuing over a contract extension. For now the plan remains for him to ride the forthcoming classics as long as they take place.