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UAE-Team Emirates riders remain in UAE as Lappartient backs Italian races

UCI president Lappartient says the cycling governing body is doing what it can as coronavirus threatens more WorldTour races.

Riders and staffers on the UAE-Team Emirates squad remain in the United Arab Emirates, even as teams and staff from the event were finally allowed to leave after several days of lock-down due to a coronavirus scare.

The confusion and inconsistent information coming out of the cancelled UAE Tour, which was canceled with two stages to go on Thursday, reveals how flux the situation can be as the coronavirus sweeps the globe.

UCI president David Lappartient said Sunday the cycling governing body is doing what it can to assure that upcoming races in Europe can be held as scheduled. Major WorldTour races are scheduled next week in France with Paris-Nice and in Italy with Strade Bianche.

“The decision remains in the capacity of the health authorities to decide what is the best decision,” Lappartient said Sunday. “From our side, we continue to support the events to take place in Italy. The public authorities can decide to stop some sport events, but so far, this does not seem to be the case. So that is why, as of today, these races remain in the UCI calendar.”

There is growing concern that European governments could shut down areas and put spring races in peril similar to what happened with the UAE Tour. Right now, Italy is seeing impacted areas in Lombardy and Veneto in northern Italy, far away from the Strade Bianche course on Saturday, but close enough to Milan-San Remo to put the season’s first monument in danger.

France is also seeing its first cases of coronavirus, but so far, Paris-Nice appears to be raced according to schedule.

“The situation is changing very fast,” Lappartient said. When asked if the final decision is up to health authorities, the UCI president replied, “Of course, of course.”

The world track cycling championships in Berlin concluded Sunday without incident, though many riders and staffers were anxious to get on their flights home before the fast-changing situation worsens.

Confusion continues to unfold in the Abu Dhabi, where the UAE Tour race entourage has been under lock-down since Thursday.

Most teams and some journalists managed to leave overnight, but others were stopped short Sunday morning just as they were expected to take buses to the airport. Authorities apparently were spooked about a possible contagion, though many now are being told it will be possible to leave on rescheduled flights Monday or Tuesday. Many of RCS Sport’s top brass, organizers of Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, also remain in the United Arab Emirates.

Officials from the UAE-Emirates team said they would be voluntarily keeping riders and staffers in the UAE for more time to conduct additional health tests.

“In light of some known cases of flu within our group and other teams, we will be tested again in the next few days and once the situation has improved, riders and staff will return to their families,” a team release stated.

“Our team cares more about the health of our athletes and staff than race results, and we are well aware that extending our stay in isolation will hamper our sporting ambitions in view of the upcoming events.”