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Coronavirus puts Milano-Sanremo, other Italian races at risk

RCS Sport said there is no 'plan B' as Italian officials shut down areas near the route of the season's first monument

An outbreak of the coronavirus in northern Italy is putting Milano-Sanremo and other upcoming Italian races in the crosshairs.

Over the weekend, Italian officials put several communities under quarantine and canceled sporting events in areas of Lombardy and Veneto in northern Italy following a wave of cases numbering nearly 200 that are among the first in Europe.

With several top Italian races scheduled in the coming weeks in the men’s and women’s calendars, many are wondering how it will affect the racing schedules. Some races in China have already been canceled due to the growing health crisis.

RCS Sport director Mauro Vegni told reporters at the UAE Tour that if Italian health officials continue with strict restrictions this year’s first monument could be canceled.

“There is no ‘Plan B,’” Vegni told reporters about Milan-San Remo. “If the government confirms a blockage of sport in Milan and Lombardy, we would have to cancel it.”

Among the upcoming Italian races, including Strade Bianche (March 7), Tirreno-Adriatico (March 11-17) and the women’s Trofeo Alfredo Binda (March 22), only portions of the Milano-Sanremo (March 21) course are near the so-called restricted “red zone.”

Right now, Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico — both held in central Italy — and Trofeo Binda, held on the western edge of Lombardia, are well beyond the restricted zones.

The worry is that the highly contagious coronavirus could continue to spread and provoke more restrictions, potentially endangering even the Giro d’Italia scheduled in May.

The immediate concern is Milano-Sanremo. The nearly 300km route from Milan to San Remo on the Italian Riviera passes near restricted areas in Lombardia in northern Italy. Vegni said it would be impossible to try to alter the route to detour around affected areas.

“It makes no sense to move the start 20 or 50 kilometers,” he told Corriere della Sera. “The race has been the same for 110 years. I cannot say anything about the Giro d’Italia. But it is clear that if the [contagion] is not mitigated, there is a risk that it could be canceled too.”

Milan-San Remo is one of cycling’s oldest races. Since its founding in 1907, it’s only been stopped three times: in 1916 and in 1944-45.

Italy is suddenly ground zero in the fight to control the spread of the coronavirus in Europe. Many of the cases are centered in a small town of Codogno, southeast of Milan.

Italian officials, however, imposed travel restrictions in some areas of Lombardy and Veneto, as well as shut down schools and universities. Soccer matches were canceled as well as the final two days of Carnival in Venice.

“At RCS Sport, we are also very concerned about the spread of the virus, because the situation in Italy is very problematic,” Vegni said. “I hope that the spike of the coronavirus will decrease. We are dependent on what the authorities decide.”