By Julien Pretot
NICE, France (Reuters) - Four staff members of the Lotto-Soudal team were sent away from the Tour de France after two of them tested positive for coronavirus, the Belgian team said on Thursday.
"After a PCR test, specific to SARS-Cov-2, revealed two non-negative cases, Team Lotto-Soudal decided to send home two staff people, as well as their room mates. Safety remains priority number one," Lotto-Soudal said in a statement.
The team members are a mechanic and a caretaker. Lotto Soudal told Reuters they would be quickly replaced as almost all their staff had been undergoing regular coronavirus tests, meaning they can enter the Tour "bubble" quickly.
Organisers had said that should two members of a team test positive for coronavirus, the outfit would be excluded from the race, but sources told Reuters on Thursday there was a new rulebook that did not mention that specific measure.
Organisers said the team were not excluded from the Tour, which starts on Saturday.
Lotto-Soudal's Australian rider Caleb Ewan has a good chance of wearing the first yellow jersey of the race as the opening stage is expected to finish in a mass sprint.
Team staff and riders are tested six and three days prior to the start of the three-week long race.
The Tour de France was due to start on June 27 but was postponed amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Cases have been rising steadily in the last four weeks in France, but sports minister Jean-Michel Blanquer ruled out a cancellation of the world's biggest cycling race.
"The Tour de France should be the sign that we can continue to live life and of the resilience of our society,” he said earlier on Thursday.
The number of cases reached a post-lockdown high of 6,111 on Thursday, although the number of people in intensive care units (ICU) fell by 29 to 381.
Since late July, ICU numbers have largely stabilised after falling from a high of 7,148 in early April.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond)