Cyclists have expressed frustration over strict coronavirus protocols at the Vuelta a España with 23 riders so far having pulled out

Cyclists have expressed their frustration over the sport’s strict coronavirus protocols with riders continuing to be forced to pull out of the Vuelta a España, after positive tests.

The withdrawals before the start of today’s 12th stage takes the total to 23, with Colombian rider Santiago Buitrago of Bahrain Victorious and Dutch rider Boy Van Poppel, representing Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert, the latest to pull out.

The total of 23 COVID-related withdrawals is six more than the whole of the Tour de France, with this year’s edition of the Grand Tour still having more than a week remaining.

Many riders have spoken privately about their concerns with Trek-Segafredo rider Alex Kirsch, of Luxembourg, among those to talk on the record when he told Cycling News: "The answer is maybe not correct to say but maybe we stop testing."

Belgium’s Dries Devenyns, riding for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl added: "It’s quite impossible [to manage] if we keep testing.

"If we do this then every day one or two riders will go home. It’s hard for us to keep it under control if society is normal.

"Maybe we focus less on it? Send the guy home if he is sick, otherwise treat it like a normal illness."

Speaking to RTVE  race director Javier Guillén said that if a rider tests positive, this result is then confirmed by a polymerase chain reaction test, and providing the viral load is low enough, the affected rider can continue racing.

"The problem is that when the positive is detected in the morning, there's not the time to get the PCR results before the stage starts," said Guillén.

"We would have to let them start without knowing the viral load and still the teams are not willing to do that.

Santiago Buitrago of Bahrain Victorious, pictured and Boy Van Poppel both withdrew from the Vuelta after positive tests for coronavirus today ©Getty Images
Santiago Buitrago of Bahrain Victorious, pictured and Boy Van Poppel both withdrew from the Vuelta after positive tests for coronavirus today ©Getty Images

"The only thing I can say is that there is a protocol. There are three mandatory tests from the organisation during the race.

"The teams don't have to test the riders outside of the mandatory tests but they do.

"Why they do so is a question for the teams. I assume because they want certain control. Not all teams are doing the same and there will be others who are not.

"We knew that there was going to be COVID, but maybe there's been more than we predicted - all cases that have been reported have been asymptomatic or very mild.

"The situation is affecting the race, of course, but we have to be optimistic. All those that are positive are out of the race.

"We hope that the evolution is that there will be less cases but we will see. I can't tell people, in this case the teams, what they need to do because there is a medical criteria - the doctors and the UCI take the decision - we can't do anything as a race."

Australian Miles Scotson, who rides for Groupama-FDJ called for "better management" of the race.

"Having travel days and being in an airport, it’s not a surprise people are getting it," said Scotson.

"Everything’s opened up and you can do what you want off the bike, so in a race it’s easy to pass on.

"We try to wear a mask as much as we can, but you can’t race with a mask on."