By Julien Pretot
POITIERS, France (Reuters) - Four Tour de France teams, including that of defending champion Egan Bernal, are racing on a knife edge after one of their members tested positive for the coronavirus amid confusion over how exclusion rules will apply.
The rules state that should two members of a team test positive within a seven-day period, the whole outfit will be excluded from the race.
Yet a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters that organisers may backtrack and reset the day-count after consultation with the French government.
Apart from Bernal's Ineos-Grenadiers, the other teams who had one staff member test positive for the coronavirus are AG2R-La Mondiale, Cofidis and Mitchelton-Scott.
Half of each team was tested last Sunday and the other half last Monday and they will be tested again next Sunday and Monday in the same way.
This means that if any of the positive tests were from last Monday then the team risks exclusion should they have another positive test on Sunday.
The race's interim director Francois Lemarchand said before the start of the 11th stage on Wednesday that teams who had received one positive test would be excluded if there was another from "the next battery of tests".
"But before there will be a discussion between the health authorities, the Tour race management and the International Cycling Union to make the decision," he added.
Lemarchand has been in charge since Tuesday, when race director Christian Prudhomme left the event after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The affected teams remained tight-lipped over who had failed tests and over when exactly the positive staff member had been tested.
The situation has left the teams on edge.
Cofidis team manager Cedric Vasseur did not answer questions shortly before the start of the 11th stage, waving reporters away because he was outside of the race bubble on his way to pick up his car.
AG2R-La Mondiale manager Vincent Lavenu was fuming at "those who would like to see a team go".
He said the team's staff member who tested positive had gone home to isolate and his room mate was also sent packing despite testing negative.
“We don’t plan further testing before the battery of tests in Grenoble,” Lavenu added.
"I don't think we should add more stress every day to give pleasure to those who are waiting for a team to be kicked out."
AG2R-La Mondiale have Frenchman Romain Bardet, currently fourth overall, in their ranks, while Cofidis have a lot at stake with Guillaume Martin sitting in third place overall.
Defending champion Bernal is second overall.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)