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Life in coronavirus quarantine: Q&A with Nathan Haas

6 Mar 2020

Currently under a 14 day coronavirus quarantine at the UAE Tour, we spoke to Nathan Haas about the situation

Words: Joe Robinson

The world of cycling is continuing to deal with the ongoing worldwide spread of coronavirus. With the situation growing in mainland Europe, race organisers and teams are being forced into action.

So far, all racing in Italy has been cancelled for the month of March while a growing number of men's and women's teams have taken the decision to withdraw from racing until later in the month.

These precautions, however, came too late for 70 members of staff and riders from four teams who remain in quarantine at the Crowne Royal Plaza hotel in the United Arab Emirates.

After six confirmed cases of COVID-19, all those staying on the fourth floor of the hotel were forced to remain in isolation, at first for an unknown amount of time, now promised to be until 14th March.

One of those is Cofidis rider Nathan Haas. Cyclist spoke to the Australian on the phone yesterday to get the full rundown on the situation

Cyclist: When did you find out that there had been a confirmed coronavirus case at the race?

Nathan Haas: Well, maybe I could have been more imaginative about the whole situation because the night before I was sitting outside the hotel at 11pm with my teammate Atilio Viviani. We wanted to go for a bit of a walk, stretch our legs, escape the hotel, the usual. We went to walk one way and were told by a security guard that we couldn’t, he told us to turn around and go another way.

I asked him who he was and he said he was the police and that the road was blocked for a VIP. So we sat by the front of the hotel and it became an increasing palava.

There were lots of cars, loads more police and I was thinking this must be a huge VIP, is it Donald Trump?

We thought nothing more of it and then went to bed. Next thing I know, we are woken up at 3:30am with our sports directors and men in hazmat suits behind them standing at the door, telling us we have to go be tested and the race was cancelled.

Cyc: So the whole race goes for testing, how quick was the negative test?

NH: It took two days. And for those first few days, we were mixing with everyone in the hotel like normal. Going down to the buffet together, hanging out in the lobby, it was just normal, we were even in the restaurant with the normal public. There were no issues.

Then on the second night, our team went to the gym to have a bit of fun, break the boredom. We come back into the lobby, everyone has their suitcases ready and we assume it’s time to go. Then we’re told we are on the fourth floor and that we have to stay for extra quarantine. It didn’t make sense, we’d all been hanging out together.

We initially thought it was an admin error or something and we’d be out in 24 hours. No, we were then told our floor had non-negatives and that’s when the communication went silent for a few days until we were told we would be re-tested.

We knew we were all fine. We’d all tested negative for the virus and our team doctor, who is here with us, had been thorough in checking us daily, checking our vitals.

Then despite the tests being all negative, we are told that others in the hotel, not necessarily our floor, have tested positive so will have to stay longer with no information on how long. 400 people had already left by this point, all from the race.

Cyc: You were forced to remain in quarantine but without your bikes or access to the gym. When did you get the bike?

NH: Not until late on Wednesday night. I started training yesterday and getting the legs moving again was such an incredible feeling.

Look, you can live without having a bike but I’m a cyclist, it’s my job. I have been rebuilding form since last October, it’s a slow process that takes time to do. The most important races of my entire season are just around the corner and I’ve been sat in a hotel all week without being able to move, use the gym, anything. You don’t know how long this will last.

From the professional side of things, I was just highly disappointed that without being at fault, due to injury or illness, I was losing a lot of work.

For what it’s worth, I cannot undermine the global situation of what this means right now. It’s proving to be a big deal and I don’t want to sit here with my first world problems of sitting in a five-star hotel room, there are bigger problems in the world and I’ve had bigger problems in my own life.

But as a professional, I’m sure people can appreciate our situation. We are endurance athletes, when you rest, you rust. We are accepting the situation and it is just a process of minimising the loss.

Cyc: It seems like the biggest problem is the lack of communication, specifically from race organiser RCS?

NH: Well, RCS left. I don’t know if that sits well with me. Once this is done, maybe I can unpack it and try to understand why they left but, to me, it seems similar to a captain abandoning his ship. I find it disappointing.

And look, the RCS has done some good things like helping us get our bikes, they got them out of lockdown but they profit off the contract they have with the UAE government putting on this race and without us riders, they do not have this race.

It seems disappointing that the RCS has not provided official communication to the riders to inform us with what they are doing. They could be doing a lot, but I honestly don’t know. But just knowing they are no longer on the ground, that’s kind of ridiculous.

They seemed more focused on putting on their next race [Strade Bianche, which has since been cancelled] as opposed to taking their athletes from the last one. It seems to me that they are driven from the free market and, to be honest, it shows the truth behind who is running things.

To my knowledge right now, nobody from RCS is here. There was one guy who stayed and helped release the bike but he lives in Dubai and has since gone home.

The question we have to ask is: does anybody think that is responsible for the company to have done that? Ultimately, it’s an interesting situation and I’m not a third party commentator, I have a vested interest in getting out.

Whatever I say may get taken out of context but it looks as if RCS calls off a race, they will lose the money. If the race is called off for them, they may not. Maybe they were waiting for the government to call it or teams to abandon wholesale, hence rushing back and not taking immediate action with the upcoming races.

And I get they are a business, they have people that they need to pay and maybe they were trying to avoid those costs, I fully appreciate that. We are lucky to have money and a professional sport, and we have these race promoters so I don’t want to shit on them too much.

Cyc: Have the UCI or CPA contacted the riders still in quarantine?

NH: Honestly, we have had no communication to the riders from anybody except our team and the embassies. Zwift got in touch and has sent us some iPads and set us up with accounts. We may even make a Tour of Quarantine and make some fun out of the situation.

In fact, I must say, the embassy has been excellent. Everyone has unique needs here, physical and mental. David Gaudu of Groupama-FDJ received a PlayStation from the French embassy, women have been given their specific products, I got toothpaste today after running out.

They are pushing as hard as they can from their side. They are trying to make this as smooth as possible in a situation that is unprecedented. The embassy has been uniquely amazing.

I have to really thank the Australian Embassy because it is so heartwarming to realise that while very far from home, in a very different country, feeling vulnerable and then you get a call from the embassy keeping you informed with what they know and knowing they are working hard to sort the situation. It actually makes you very proud to be where you are from.

After this, I also feel that we will be much better prepared for another situation like this going forward. No one knew what to do at first, now there seems to be a plan.

Cyc: Did having a date to leave, 14th March, help?

NH: Yes and no. I think the big thing is that we will believe it when we see it. The question is, is our last test on the 14th? Then it’s two days later, isn’t it?

At first, two days rolled into seven without any information. It felt helpless but putting a date on it helps you rationalise it. Everything else becomes secondary to coming out on that date, healthy.

Cyc: And how are you putting a positive spin on the whole situation?

NH: Well, I’m actually back at university doing a degree in health science so I have been able to catch up with what I missed due to racing. I have also been doing intermittent research on the history of the Emirates, itself, actually. It turns out all you need is a quarantine to get things done that you haven’t got time for.

I’m also seeing it as a really good personal challenge. Sport is just a tiny microcosm of real-life and I see this as another hurdle to come over. If I can come out of this, you are set for other challenges further in life, there could be good to be gained from this.

You just have to think, there’s always a silver lining.

Update Monday 9 March: Having been released from quarantine, Nathan Haas shares his reflections on the experience with Cyclist.