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Vegni says Italian races could be rescheduled with coronavirus scare

Pressure is mounting as weekend races face growing coronavirus crisis. Teams have been placed in extended quarantine, doctors post warning, and others vow not to race.

To race or not to race: that is the question as race organizers and teams across Europe face a troubling dilemma ahead of this weekend’s WorldTour races and a growing coronavirus crisis.

With two of the WorldTour spring classics most important races slated for this coming weekend — Strade Bianche on Saturday and Paris-Nice starting Sunday — the peloton is caught in the middle of a growing health crisis. And with other races further down the list, including important women’s races and the spring classics, the spring racing calendar could be in the crosshairs.

On Tuesday, a French sports minister gave the green light for Paris-Nice to be held. Sources are telling VeloNews on Wednesday that ASO is planning to start the race as scheduled Sunday near Paris. Earlier this week, RCS Sport officials sent a note to teams insisting its slate of races in March would go on as scheduled. Italian government officials, however, are considering a 30-day shutdown of public gatherings, including sporting events, that could be implemented at any time.

The earth is moving under everyone’s feet.

Overnight, EF Pro Cycling sent letters to David Lappartient and RCS Sport director Mauro Vengi asking to be exempt from Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milano-Sanremo.

Wednesday morning, Cofidis confirmed riders and staff were to remain in quarantine in Abu Dhabi through March 14. Hours later, Groupama-FDJ made a similar announcement via Twitter, saying, “all of our riders and staff in the UAE have been tested negative for COVID-19, still several positive results, not involving our team – have been reported inside our hotel.”

Here is the latest Wednesday in the fast-moving story:

Vegni mulls over rescheduling races

RCS Sport’s Mauro Vegni, speaking to TuttoBici, said the race organization is considering rescheduling its races if the government issues a nationwide shutdown.

“We are on the eve of three great events … and our intention, as we have repeatedly stressed in recent days, is to run and give people the spectacle that awaits the great champions. But there is no doubt that the news that arrives regarding the coronavirus emergency is clear: the indications of the Scientific Committee leave little room for maneuver and, if adopted by the government, we would be forced to cancel the three tests in question,” Vegni said.

“We intend to work alongside the UCI to find a new place on the calendar for these races, which we absolutely do not want to miss,” Vegni said.

Team doctors issue warning

On Wednesday, doctors representing more than a dozen WorldTour teams requested that all Italian races be canceled in light of health concerns and uncertainty about what would happen in the case of more outbreaks. Teams are worried that new cases could see riders and staffers be put under quarantine, like what is happening in the wake of the shutdown of the UAE Tour, as well as citing larger public health questions.

“This is the most responsible intervention: for the riders, but also for general health,” the note said, posted on Het Nieuwsblad. “There is a lot of uncertainty about COVID-19 right now. That is why it is necessary to draw up clear plans in advance for all possible scenarios. And that is not the case at the moment.”

Parkhotel staying home

Parkhotel Valkenburg, home of Lorena Wiebes, announced Wednesday it would not be sending teams to race Strade Bianche or Trofeo Binda this month in Italy. It posted a note on Twitter, citing a travel warning from the Netherlands government as well as a possible threat to public safety.

“It is super unfortunate that we have come to this conclusion,” a press note stated. “If the Italian government, the race organization or the UCI will take responsibility, then we need to take it.”