American WorldTour team EF Pro Cycling has asked the UCI and Italian race operator RCS Sport to excuse it from the upcoming Italian races Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milano-Sanremo amid growing fears of COVID-19.
The letter, viewed by VeloNews, was sent to UCI President David Lappartient and RCS President Mauro Vengi on March 2.
“We are writing today to find out if RCS has a robust containment and prevention strategy in place—to our satisfaction—for the protection of both the teams and the communities, or if we can come to a mutual agreement regarding our team’s non-participation in these events,” the letter said. “These are races our riders are passionate about—they are wove into the soul of professional cycling. That said, the health and safety of our team is paramount, and as the director of the World Health Organization noted on Monday: ‘Containment of COVID-19 is feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries.”
The news was initially reported Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal. The names attached to the letter were Kevin Sprouse, EF’s longtime head of medicine, and the team’s CEO Jonathan Vaughters and President Mary Wittenberg.
“The team feels a responsibility to the greater public health efforts in place across affected areas, and we feel our responsibility to our fans and to the people of the towns and cities we travel to as part of the WorldTour,” the letter said.
EF’s request to skip the events comes as Italy has reported more than 1,500 cases of coronavirus, with many of the cases being reported in the Lombardy, where Milano-Sanremo is set to pass through on March 21.
Italy is among Europe’s worst-hit countries for coronavirus. According to a recent report in Reuters, 27 people died from the virus over the past 24 hours, bringing the nation’s death toll to 79 since the first case was reported 12 days ago. According to the report there are no 2,502 reported cases in Italy, with a high concentration occurring in Bergamo, northeast of Milan.
WorldTour teams such as EF Pro Cycling are required to participate in WorldTour races, per the license obligations agreed to by the UCI and the team owners. EF’s letter acknowledged these obligations, and said the team would work with the event directors if there is a safety plan for the races, or if there is a plan to reschedule the events.
EF cited the Center For Disease Control’s recent Level 3 Warning for Italy—the designation urges Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to the country.
“We think it best to follow this advice and make all efforts to keep our staff and riders healthy and to help ensure they are not at risk of transmitting the virus,” the letter said. “It saddens us to be writing this note, as every one of our riders and staff are enthusiastic and prepared to race the se events.”