Van Aert adds Omloop over race calendar uncertainty due to coronavirus

The Belgian's return to the spring classics is sooner than expected, as teams adjust to possible race cancellations in Italy.

Wout Van Aert spring classics return will be earlier than expected after Jumbo-Visma tweaked his schedule ahead of a possible disruption of Italian races due to the coronavirus scare.

Van Aert, who hasn’t raced on the road since crashing out of last year’s Tour de France, will join his Jumbo-Visma teammates at Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium.

“With Van Aert’s start in the Omloop, we anticipate a possible cancelation of other races on his program,” the team said in a statement Wednesday.

Van Aert was set to debut at Strade Bianche on March 7, following with GP Industria and Artigianato and Milano-Sanremo. In light of the coronavirus popping up in Italy over the past week, however, team officials wanted to make sure their Belgian star would be racing.

There’s a lot of speculation surrounding the Italian racing schedule after Europe’s first coronavirus cases have appeared in Italy over the past week. Certain so-called “red zones” have been set up around affected areas in parts of Lombardy and Veneto in northern Italy.

Right now, only Milan-Sanremo could be in his crosshairs, but part of the route of the season’s first monument passes near some of the affected areas, south of Milan. Strade Bianche (March 7) and Tirreno-Adriatico (March 11-17) are not near impacted zones. The women’s Trofeo Alfredo Binda (March 22), in western Lombardy, is also far from current flagged areas.

RCS Sport director Mauro Vegni said his staff is monitoring the fast-changing situation, and are working to assure that the races can be held safely.

That hasn’t stopped teams from reconsidering their options and adjusting their racing schedules.

Van Aert’s return to the classics will be one of the most highly anticipated of the upcoming spring season. The Belgian star has twice finished third in the past two editions of Strade Bianche in dramatic fashion.

Jumbo-Visma will be hoping Van Aert, who returned to competition at select cyclocross events this winter, will be racing at peak form in time for the northern classics across Benelux and northern France in the coming weeks.