By Julien Pretot
NICE, France (Reuters) - Ineos Grenadiers team principal Dave Brailsford believes everything has been done so that the Tour de France can be raced in safe conditions as the number of coronavirus cases in the country continues to increase.
The number of daily cases in France reached a new post-lockdown high of 6,111 on Thursday, fuelling speculation among fans and media that the race, which starts on Saturday, would not reach Paris on Sept. 20.
"We can minimise risks quite significantly," Brailsford told a news conference on Friday.
Riders and team staff members were tested for the coronavirus six and three days before the start of the race.
Four members of the Lotto Soudal team were sent home on Thursday after a mechanic and a caretaker tested positive.
"We've been working with (organisers) Amaury Sport Organisation and they really have done everything possible to make the event work," Brailsford said.
Yet he added: "We don't know, nobody knows if we're going to reach Paris."
Organisers said last week that should two team members test positive over a seven-day period, the whole outfit would be excluded from the race, but sources told Reuters that the latest rule book they received made no mention of that measure.
As a consequence, Lotto Soudal were not excluded from the event on Thursday.
Teams, however, are used to operating in a sanitised environment and in that respect, this year's race is not that different.
"Before COVID came along we had our programme to minimise the risk of injuries and illness," said Brailsford.
"It implied cleaning TV controllers (at the hotel), for instance. So for us, the added element is that we need to wear a mask, it's not such a big change."
Riders and staff will undergo regular tests and police officers will be deployed on the climbs to make sure fans stay at a distance and wear masks.
There is a question mark over the potential for 'false positive' tests, which could result in a rider being sent home before a second test can confirm the result.
Yet that is a risk teams need to accept, said Brailsford.
"We have to act quickly. It's not the best scenario but it's realistic," he said.
Team Ineos Grenadiers' Egan Bernal of Colombia is the defending champion of the Tour, which starts with a loop around Nice.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)