So, week two of the Giro d’Italia begins in crisis. Australian team Mitchelton-Scott and Dutch powerhouse Jumbo-Visma have both pulled their entire team from the race, throwing the proceedings into disarray and prompting questions about the validity of a win without such important and prominent teams participating. Mitchelton-Scott lost Simon Yates over the weekend and have since had four further staff members test positive in the latest round of tests. They pulled the entire team, citing “social responsibility.” Steven Kruijswijk tested positive also, prompting Jumbo-Visma to follow suit. It is a most uncertain time among already uncertain times. For now, the race goes on as usual (as “usual” as usual can be without those two big teams), but who can say what will change going forward? Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb, along with staff members from Ineos Grenadiers and AG2R-La Mondiale have all tested positive. Will similar withdrawal decisions follow? It seems almost inevitable.
There is talk of an outright cancellation. The point was raised that, if this swathe of positive tests had struck at stage 18 or 19, toward the end of the three-week race, we could talk about moving forward and crowning a genuine winner. There’s always the potential for late drama in the Giro, but at that point in the race, the frontrunners have well defined themselves. Not so after little more than a week. 9 complete stages, with a number of hellish mountain stages to go and many more kilometres to cover, cannot properly define a victor.
The proverbial “elephant in the room” is, of course, that none of these issues were present at the Tour de France. A few staff members were infected, of course, but nothing so serious as to necessitate the withdrawal of entire teams of competitors. A strict set of rules were put in place from the earliest moment, to ensure that the Coronavirus couldn’t spread, if anyone at all was infected. No rider was. Jos van Emden, of team Jumbo-Visma, was quick to place blame on the organisation itself, saying that “It already went wrong in the first hotel. 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 are supposed to stay in a “bio-secure bubble” while not on the road, just as they did for the Tour de France, but it seems this didn’t happen here.
The Giro d’Italia, removed from it’s original May date and now taking place in October, now coincides with a continent-wide increase in Covid-19 cases that has prompted questions about whether this is the time for a race of this magnitude to be carried out at all. One thing certain about the uncertainty is that the absence of those two big teams has thrown the Grand Classification completely out of order. It’s almost as if a new race has begun here, with the often-dominant Jumbo-Visma team now completely absent. There is a long way to go, if the race is not cancelled, of course, and many more twists and turns to come yet, both on the bike and off. Bring on stage 11!