Between two rounds of Covid-19 tests, the Giro d’Italia pursued its journey on Thursday in a 12th stage won by Ecuadorian Jhonatan Narvaez in Cesenatico, the home town of Italian cycling legend Marco Pantani.
But rumour and concern circulated among riders in the race which has already been abandoned by two teams — Mitchelton and Jumbo.
The International Association of Teams (AIGCP) requested and got the new round of tests, without waiting for the next scheduled rest day on Monday.
The Education First team even recommended ending the race next Sunday, before the third and final week.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) however stressed the organisers’ commitment to tightening the race ‘bubble’ and finishing on October 25 in Milan.
“We’re not threatening to leave,” said Education First team manager Jonathan Vaughters, speaking of a “suggestion”.
“We prefer to go to the end. And we’ll continue if the next round of tests show that it can be done safely.”
On leaving Cesenatico, false rumours circulated that 17 members of the Giro’s police escort had tested positive, after several days in isolation.
Organisers specified the police in question were dealing with a parallel race, the E-Giro, not rubbing shoulders with the riders.
Belgian Thomas De Gendt, whose physical performance has dropped in recent days, said his concerns were shared by part of the peloton.
“I’m not just worried about myself, but also about my family, and I don’t want to run the risk of infecting someone,” De Gendt told Flemish television.
“It’s extremely uncertain,” agreed pink jersey holder Joao Almeida of Portugal.
“I fear that the Giro will not go to Milan. Everyone has their opinion on the matter.
“For my part, I want to continue, my team too, to do what I have to do.”
In the race around Cesenatico, Narvaez gave the Ineos team their third stage win, crossing the line alone after a difficult 204km run along rain-soaked roads of Emilia-Romagna.
Narvaez finished 1min 8sec ahead of Ukrainian Mark Padun, who held on despite a puncture 24km from the line, with Australian Simon Clarke crossing third at 6min 50sec.
Narvaez and Padun had pulled clear with 60km to go from the 14-rider breakaway that formed an hour into the hilly race, which featured five climbs.
“It’s not a problem for me to race in the rain, in fact, I prefer it to the hot weather,” said Narvaez.
The 23-year-old dedicated his first WorldTour win to ex-Ineos sports director Nico Portal who died aged 40 this year after a heart attack.
“I learned a lot from him,” said Narvaez.
The Ecuadorian had already tasted success in the Emilia-Romagna region just a month ago having won the Coppi-Bartali International around Cesenatico.
Almeida retained the overall race leader’s pink jersey in the stage which paid tribute to former Giro winner Pantani, who died in 2004.
“Today was a very tough stage,” said the Deceuninck rider.
“I am happy to have managed to keep the maglia rosa. Once again my team was extraordinary, I’m really grateful to my teammates.”
Almeida’s group, which included the race favourites, crossed the line over eight minutes behind the winner.
Friday’s 13th stage covers 192km from Cervia to Monselice, over mostly flat terrain before two short, steep climbs near the finish line.