Safety and health top priorities as racing returns: an interview with doctor Nino Daniele


Trek-Segafredo head physician explains how the team will represent a “health bubble” to create a safe environment at races throughout the rescheduled season.

For a sport where athletes and staff live in many different countries, races follow an international calendar, and everyone involved changes hotels every few days, the new coronavirus reality poses a huge challenge for safe competitions. Even where extraordinary measures are put in place, they need to evolve constantly to keep pace with changes related to the virus.

This is the scene for 2020 racing, and Trek-Segafredo’s head physician Dr. Gaetano Daniele explains how the team is preparing to stay safe in this unprecedented environment.

“Social distancing, protective devices, and good practice are concepts that have been part of our lives for months. Now, with the restart of the races, they have also become part of the daily life of a cycling team. Our approach has changed, just as it has all over the world,” said Dr. Daniele.  Together with his Trek-Segafredo colleagues Jens Hinder, Emilio Magni, and Scott Major, he tackled the most delicate aspects in the return to racing: the team’s health and safety.

“Since the season was put on hold in  March, it has been an arduous process to define a protection protocol to minimize the risks of infection and race with as much serenity as possible,” Dr. Daniele explained. “Compared to other sports, which can gather their activities in one place and isolate themselves from the rest of the world – such as basketball – cycling has many variables and intricacies. Riders and staff live scattered mainly in Europe, races are held in different countries – sometimes separated by only a few days – and people sleep in hotels which, in many cases, change every day. Last but not least, all this happens in a framework of extraordinary healthcare situations everywhere and in continuous evolution.”

Trek-Segafredo head physician Dr. Gaetano Daniele

The UCI, the world governing body of cycling, has drawn up a protocol of rules and obligations. The first is for the teams and must be strictly respected in order to be admitted at the start line; the second is for the organizers and must be followed to ensure the health of all those involved in the event, fans included.

“The basic concept that has been introduced is the so-called ‘health bubble’, i.e. a small group of potentially non-infectious people. Each team represents a bubble and, together, they create a protected environment that allows people to operate safely and minimize the risk of infection,” continued Dr. Daniele. “To be admitted to a bubble, the UCI requires team’s riders and staff – from 16 to 20 people per race – have two swab tests with negative results, six days and three days before a race. Then, it is required to monitor the temperature of each individual, morning and evening, and a daily compiling of a questionnaire to exclude symptoms that could raise a red flag. The team doctor is responsible for all these procedures to certify their correctness in accordance with the head UCI doctor.

“The other substantial aspect, in charge of the organizers, is the environment in which the event takes place. The start and finish of the races will be very different from what we are used to experiencing. Fans, media, and guests will have restrictions on access to the team areas, to avoid gatherings and not affect the health bubble. In hotels, it is required that only one team stay overnight or, in the case of large facilities, each group stays in well-separated wings and each person has a single room. Dedicated areas must be set up for team meals, without a buffet and with table service only. Room sanitization is assumed in accordance to the laws of each country” explained Dr. Daniele.

In addition to this protocol, the Trek-Segafredo medical staff has decided to take further measures. “The first rule, the simplest and best known, but also the most incisive, concerns good habits – washing hands often, sanitize them, maintaining the distances with people outside the bubble and wearing the mask in public spaces. We will repeat it endlessly and, as a reminder, we have given everyone a refillable sanitizer spray and two washable masks, created by Santini, as well as having sanitizer dispensers in every vehicle. We have eliminated the ‘food room’ for riders’ snacks at the end of the races, which was normally in the room of a soigneur.  We have imposed daily sanitization of all vehicles and limited access to the bus to a limited number of people.”

It is hard to dispute that the effort to minimize the risk and allow a safe restart has been considerable. And Dr. Daniele, after intense months, is aware that the team has left nothing to chance.

“From our general manager Luca Guercilena downwards, I saw everyone working hard to reorganize the team and its logistics, with the aim of being ready for the races and safeguarding the health of the almost one hundred people who will be working in the coming months. We can say we are satisfied, but the level of attention will always be at its highest level.

The rules have been written, the protocols drawn up, now comes the most difficult part: putting them into practice.

“Although in many countries the Covid-19 emergency has been reduced in size, the virus has not disappeared. We must all be aware of this and act together. If every component – teams, UCI, and organizers – do their part, we will have the conditions to finish the season smoothly. The rules have been written, the protocols drawn up, now comes the most difficult part: putting them into practice.

“We have to deal with the reality of the facts. Considering the logistical difficulties of our sport, its peculiarities, and the health situations that some countries are experiencing, I believe that the UCI has chosen a complicate way to ensure risk prevention. In particular the swab tests, which will sometimes require an extreme, exaggerated effort to ensure compliance. We all agree that these are necessary. However, the choice to not set up a single structure able to cover the testing for all teams just before the races and to entrust that to private and public local health facilities, with restrictions on access and operation, is not optimal in my opinion. For our part, as Trek-Segafredo, we are satisfied and confident in our actions. The hope is that the same will happen in every facet of the sport.”