The Tour de France goes off track

Sometimes the insanity gets so far off the planet that you have to re-check the focus on your telescope.  The announcement that the governing bodies of bicycle racing have delayed the Tour de France, and then may send teams home for testing positive, demonstrates how quickly their ship has gone to plaid.  Somehow an "untamed virus" will lead to such unfathomable harm that it will be unsafe to ride bicycles.  (Can you send viruses to obedience school?  Do you call a "virus whisperer"?)

Let me get this straight.  COVID-19 can't survive in sunlight because solar UV breaks down its chemical coat.  That means all the air the riders will be going through will be completely scrubbed of COVID-19.  That leaves the idea that the riders can infect each other while pumping up slopes in excess of five miles per hour or, heaven forbid, sailing downhill in excess of thirty miles per hour.

All that huffing and puffing will result in more droplets being expelled by riders.  But those droplets can't stay up at rider level for as long as it takes the next rider to enter that horribly contaminated exhalation.  It might hit his skin-tight riding pants, but contact spread basically doesn't happen, so that's no problem.  Neither does droplet spread.  And the aerosols this sick rider expels will be sterilized almost instantly, so they aren't an issue.

But, you might ask, how can a sick rider keep up?  Excellent question!  Competitive cycling requires physical performance at the far reaches of human capability.  Even the riders at the back of the peloton are pretty extreme in their capabilities.  But how many can perform as Michael Jordan did during the NBA finals when he had the flu?  Almost certainly none, and even M.J. had his tongue hanging out during the game, taking brief rests while the ball was on the other side of the court.  Cyclists don't get that chance.  They have to pump it up to the max, all the time during climbs.

That means that the sick cyclist, if he even put one foot on a pedal, is almost certain to be tail end Charlie.  All his bad air will be behind the rest of the pack.  And by time it gets to the side of the road and the spectators, sunlight will have sterilized it.

Suppose he is pre-symptomatic (to use the word of the day).  Maybe he doesn't feel sick and can cycle a good race.  The fact that pre-symptomatic spread isn't a common event should put paid to this concern.  And, like before, he's outside!  The risk just doesn't exist.

But let us suppose that all we know about COVID-19 is false, and the cyclist does spread the bug.  All those riders are young men in the peak of health.  Most of them won't ever know they were infected.  The few who are will have to drop out because they can't perform.  That's it.  Their risk of dying is so small that we'll have to look through a microscope to find it.  In their age group, it's 0.02%, including people with pre-existing conditions.  With people as healthy as they are, it's about zero.

COVID-19 is spread in closed spaces with recirculated air.  That's where aerosols can accumulate to levels that are infectious.  It isn't spread outdoors.  The Tour de France needs to be medicated.

Ted Noel, M.D. is a retired physician who posts on social media as DoctorTed and @vidzette.

Image: Tour de France 2019 by Filip bossuyt, CC BY 2.0.

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