They drop like flies. From the Paris-Nice 80 get off, almost 30 from the Tirreno, they already have 25 casualties in the Volta a Catalunya that descends from the Pyrenees and travels slowly towards the last two decisive stages, and victory in the sprint in Vilanova i la Geltrú for the youngster Englishman Ethan Vernon, a 21-year-old jewel of the Quick Step who makes his debut among the greats; Almeida, thanks to the bonus of a flying goal prepared by his teammate Rui Costa, took the leader’s jersey from Nairo Quintana by 1s; Saturday the Montsant, Sunday Montjuïc, and the UAE at the head of those who remain, the survivors. And Nairo smiles: “This is how they will work, and we will work against it”.
Some of the biggest names – Porte, Sivakov, Simon Yates, Dumoulin, Kwiatkowski, Haig – went home before finishing the race. They all complain of the same thing, respiratory problems, fever, gastroenteritis. Gastrointestinal flu, flu in general. Valverde cannot give two strong pedal strokes in a row. Leg pain. distemper. Cold. A virus attacks the platoon. Your name? Nobody knows. Cold in the south, rain; heat in the north. Many words at the dinner table, grilled chicken, pasta, anecdotes and coughs, little scientific evidence. “In order to draw conclusions, an etiological survey would be needed, to know what virus is the one that makes everyone sick, if it is the same virus, to know what we are talking about,” says José Ramón Arribas, an infectious disease specialist at La Paz hospital in Madrid. , who is surprised that in the peloton there is talk that infections by other viruses have increased, with the removal of masks and the most serious precautions imposed by the covid pandemic, and that they only affect, as it seems, cyclists, and not their mechanics, masseuses or directors who share life with them in hotels and at races. “And there is no evidence or alarm or study that indicates that the development of immunity with covid may have decreased protection against other viruses. Cyclists, however, when they are in better shape, are at the limit of their defenses, and it is easier for them to become infected than non-athletes.
Cyclists suffer more from changes in temperature, rain, cold, heat. In summer they turn off the air conditioning in the hotels, they put on long sleeves as soon as the sun goes down, they drink the weather, they are delicate beings very concerned about any variation.
The fear that a new virus circulates unchecked through the cycling squad does not penetrate the team doctors, who speak, instead, of a new reality that emerges after the pandemic. “We are so obsessed with the fear of covid that as soon as there are minimal symptoms, we now act with excess prudence,” explains Alfredo Zúñiga, a Movistar doctor, who acknowledges that in his team they only do PCR tests for covid, and do not use swabs. that can identify different viruses that can cause flu-like symptoms. “The moment a runner feels a little sick, he retires, and if he doesn’t have covid, then wait for the symptoms to pass.”
In Valverde’s team, prudence is associated with prevention. Before running again, all his cyclists who have had covid undergo an echocardiogram and an electro to rule out pericarditis, a worrying sequel.
Van Aert, in Belgium
In Catalonia, in the mountains of Tarragona that border the Costa Dourada, rains and cold are announced this Saturday from Volta and lock-ups, the scene of the new duel for victory Nairo-Almeida, and half a dozen cyclists, at minimum seconds –Higuita, Ayuso, Poels, O’Connor, Johannessen, Guillaume Martin, Carapaz…– and waiting.
In Belgium, meanwhile, at a different pace and with sun, and 22 degrees in short sleeves, Wout van Aert exhibits himself in Harelbeke, Flemish paths and mountains, and exuberantly he does not pedal, he dances on his bicycle, light development, velvet impulses, pure silk, and accelerates in the Paterberg, through the right channel and breaks everyone, Asgreen, number one, Mohoric, winner in San Remo, Girmay, the Eritrean who has breakfast pavés, everyone except his partner of the Laporte team, with whom he leaves 42 kilometers from the finish line, and together they arrive and he wins the E3, like the highway that crosses the city, the first classic of the great fortnight of the Tour of Flanders, for which he is the great favorite. The Belgian champion, who already won the opening race in Belgium, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a month ago, has the full support of the so-called Malaysian Jumbo, the tactics of his jumbosso powerful –Benoot, Theunisse– of slow demolition of the adversary: what the Quick Step did before, disappeared in Flanders.
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