Mitchelton-Scott is the latest team to step back in the face of worries over the coronavirus scare, and made the even more drastic step to pull its men’s and women’s teams out of races during most of the March calendar.
Coming on the heels of a decision by Jumbo-Visma not to race Saturday’s Strade Bianche, the Australian outfit decided Wednesday it would not race not only in Italy, but also across France, the Netherlands and Belgium. The team opted not to race at the following Italian races at Strade Bianche (men and women), GP Industria, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, and the women’s WorldTour stop at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, but also Paris-Nice in France, and Ronde van Drenthe and Danilith Nokere Koerse, two women’s races in the Netherlands and Belgium, respectively.
Teams are not only worried about the welfare of their riders and staff, but also the wider implications of racing against the backdrop of such uncertainty. Teams do not want to see their riders and staff to be exposed or face the possibility of a lockdown similar to what gripped the UAE Tour last week.
“We, as team doctors and the wider team, have a duty of care to protect the health and wellbeing of all our riders and staff. We will not have any input into, or control over, the measures that race organizers may or may not put in place to manage the COVID-19 risks,” a Mitchelton-Scott release stated. “We are a moving, international logistical puzzle, with staff and riders traveling between different countries with different health systems and strategies around COVID-19. Constant travel will increase the health risks and make management of logistics, potential quarantine periods, etc, extremely difficult.”
Earlier Wednesday, Dutch WorldTour team Jumbo-Visma has decided to skip Saturday’s Strade Bianche over mounting fears of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. The squad said it made its decision based on advice from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The team announced the news Wednesday on its website. Richard Plugge, the team’s general manager, said in a statement that the team needed to “look at the broader picture” amid the growing number of coronavirus cases worldwide.
“Together with the management of our team, I am constantly considering and acting in the interest of the health and working conditions of our riders and staff members,” Plugge said. “That includes, for example, preventing them from quarantine abroad. We have to look at the broader picture and take responsibility for the health of riders, staff and fans.”
The news makes Jumbo-Visma the latest WorldTour team to bow out of the Italian classic, held on the rolling dirt roads of Tuscany. On Tuesday news broke that American squad EF Education First had sent a letter to UCI President David Lappartient and RCS Sport director Mauro Vengi asking for permission to skip the three upcoming races in Italy: Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milano-Sanremo.
Italy is one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe by the COVID-19 virus, with more than 1,500 cases identified. Many of the cases are located in the north in the province of Lombardy, which will host Milano-Sanremo later this month.
As of Wednesday afternoon in Europe, both Paris-Nice and Strade Bianche officials were still hoping to conduct their races as scheduled.