By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – The coronavirus outbreak continued to take its toll on cycling as teams withdrew from racing and organizers started to cancel events on Thursday.
Race organizers in Italy, the European country most affected by the outbreak, said on Thursday they were cancelling Saturday’s Strade Bianche one-day race after Rome decided to hold events without fans.
“RCS Sport will request the UCI (International Cycling Union), via the Italian Cycling Federation, to allocate a new date on the international cycling calendar for Strade Bianche and Strade Bianche Women Elite,” RCS said in a statement.
RCS has not yet said whether the Milan-Sanremo major classic and the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race – both scheduled for this month – will go ahead but some teams have already pulled out.
“We have chosen to protect the health of our riders and staff and to take our responsibility for the society in not further spreading the virus,” said Astana manager Alexandre Vinokourov, whose team has withdrawn from racing until March 20.
Team UAE Emirates also said they would not take part in Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan Sanremo and Paris-Nice while French team AG2R-La Mondiale said they would not participate in Italian races in March.
Australia’s Mitchelton-Scott, Dutch outfit Jumbo-Visma, France’s Groupama-FDJ and Britain’s Ineos had already pulled out of at least the Strade Bianche race in the Siena province.
Ineos, also citing the death of sports director Nicolas Portal as a reason, will not take part in any race until March 23, so defending champion Egan Bernal, last year’s Tour de France winner, will be absent from the Paris-Nice stage race starting on Sunday.
Mitchelton-Scott will not race at all until March 22.
The European Cycling Union (UEC) said on Thursday that the BMX European Cup rounds in Verona on March 28 and 29 would be postponed.
Paris-Nice organizers ASO have invited two teams, B&B Vital Concept and Circus Wanty Gobert, to make up for the withdrawals, also allowing eight riders per team instead of seven.
With a peloton forming a 180-rider pack, riders sharing rooms and team buses, drinking from bottles prepared by team staff and often being close to fans, cycling is considered to be a sport in which the virus can spread easily.
Most of the top races in March are being held in Italy, where more than 3,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus and over 100 have died.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond)