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VN news ticker: UCI bans hugging, Brandon McNulty opens 2021 at Paris-Nice

Here's what's making headlines on Thursday, March 4.

UCI bans hugging

Add the post-race embrace to the list of things frowned upon by the UCI.

While the ban on the “puppy paws” time trial position on road bikes — with one’s forearms resting on top of handlebars — and the seated-on-top-tube super tuck have been prohibited with enforcement to start on April 1, cycling’s governing body is now also discouraging riders from hugging post-race, for any reason.

While contact transmission is not likely seen as the primary method by which COVID-19 spreads, the UCI medical commission is asking riders to refrain from physical contact to not only maintain health and safety precautions but to also set an example.

“I can say that the risk of becoming infected by this behavior is not particularly high,” said the UCI’s medical chief Xavier Bigard. “It is all about the message we want to send to the world — and more specifically to cycling fans — namely that it is forbidden to touch other people if we want to stop the virus.”

The UCI has previously requested athletes refrain from touching each other while on the podium.

At this time, it is unclear if riders in shared “race bubbles” will face any penalties for exchanging hugs.

Brandon McNulty debuts season at Paris-Nice, Tadej Pogačar to race Strade Bianche

Budding GC star Brandon McNulty debuts his 2021 season at Paris-Nice, while UAE-Emirates teammate Tadej Pogačar kicks off his European calendar at Strade Bianche.

Hot off a big win at the UAE Tour, Pogačar, who races on the white roads for the third time of his career, will race at Tirreno-Adriatico and Itzulia Basque Country later this spring. Pogačar will be joined by Davide Formolo, second in last year’s edition.

“Last year I had an amazing day on the bike here and managed to finish second and climb on the podium,” Formolo said. “It’s a race that suits me well and one I can do well in. I’ll start with less pressure this year as my condition is still building. Tadej is in good form at the moment and the idea is that we both make it deep into the final with as many teammates as possible. It can be an unpredictable race but that can play to our advantage on Saturday.”

In France with Paris-Nice starting Sunday, McNulty will race for the first time since finishing 15th in the Giro d’Italia. He’s joined by David de la Cruz, Matteo Trentin, Alexander Kristoff and Rui Costa for the weeklong stage race dubbed the “Race to the Sun.”

“There are a few stages here which suit me well. I last won a stage here six years ago so to repeat it would be nice,” Kristoff said. “The main goal aside from wins will be to improve the shape ahead of the classics. Between myself and Trentin we are confident we can have a great spring campaign for the team. For the GC we will be here with De La Cruz and McNulty, but our team is full of guys who could potentially win stages.”

New anti-doping law in Colombia

The Colombian government approved a new law Wednesday punishing with imprisonment the provision or administration of doping products. The law also sees for jail terms of two to six years for suppliers, and also sanctions for doping in a move to recover its accreditation from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

“We have brought our country to the level of best practices of international organizations to fight against one of the great threats in sport — doping,” said President Ivan Duque.

With the enactment of the law, the country also inaugurated an anti-doping laboratory, allowing it to regain its accreditation with WADA, which was lost in 2017 after “analysis problems” during checks.

In 2019, Colombian team Manzana Postobón folded after it was caught in a scandal after the positive control of two of his runners. Colombia has 33 racers currently under sanctions for use of banned substances, according to the Colombian Federation. — AFP 

No return date yet for Fabio Jakobsen

Despite his name appearing on some start lists for GP Monseré on Sunday, Deceuninck-Quick-Step officials confirmed the Dutch rider Fabio Jakobsen will not be racing.

Jakobsen continues his recovery from the horrific finish-line crash as last summer’s Tour de Pologne. Following a series of operations and rehabilitation, with the latest in February to repair some damage to his chin and face, Jakobsen has returned to training.

Team officials said a possible return date to competition has not been set, but Jakobsen said last month he is optimistic he will be able to race before 2021 is over.

“I’d like to give you a date,” Jakobsen said last month. “[After surgery in February], maybe one or two months after I can race again. Right now, I’m riding my bike again. I’m doing training rides with the guys here. Not all the rides and sometimes I take a shortcut to the hotel but the feeling on the bike is OK.”

MPCC criticizes Giro d’Italia wildcards

MPCC, the anti-doping watchdog group, criticized wildcard selections for the 2021 Giro d’Italia, pointing out that two of the four wildcards — Eolo-Kometa and Vini Zabù-Brado-KTM — are not part of their group.

It also questioned the invitation extended to Vini Zabù-Brado-KTM, a team that quit MPCC and then saw a doping case at the 2020 Giro d’Italia. Matteo Spreafico returned an adverse analytic finding for the banned product Ostarine and was later fired by the team.

“We reckon that this regrettable event should have influenced the decision of the organizer. Given that this has not been the case, we have trouble understanding how RCS Sport sets its criteria, both in sporting and ethical terms,” a statement read. “Once again, MPCC doesn’t want to put pressure on race organizers’ choices but MPCC is convinced that awarding a wild card for races as popular as the Giro d’Italia to a team which ended the previous edition with a positive anti-doping test is a wrong signal.”

Commemorative coffee cups for Nicolas Portal

Ineos Grenadiers have created commemorative coffee cups for sport director Nicolas Portal, who died a year ago. Funds will go toward supporting a local charity event in memory of the French sport director who helped guide the team to some of its biggest victories.