Cycling race canceled with 2 virus cases; Froome quarantined

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A major cycling race in the United Arab Emirates was canceled early Friday after two Italians tested positive for the new coronavirus, setting off a quarantine that also ensnared four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome of Britain.

The Abu Dhabi Sports Council’s decision to cancel the race comes as the virus rapidly spreads across the wider Middle East, with over 370 confirmed cases. Many link back to Iran, which has the highest death toll outside of China, the epicenter of the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness.

Just a day earlier, Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented step of closing Islam’s holiest sites off to foreign pilgrims to stop the virus’ spread. Meanwhile, the virus continued its spread across top leaders in Iran, afflicting Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar. She’s better known as “Sister Mary,” the English-speaking spokeswoman for the students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and sparked the 444-day hostage crisis.

The number of infections in Iran has spiked Thursday by over 100 to at least 254, but a World Health Organization official said he believes that figure is “a substantial underestimate of the true number.”

In Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, its sports council said two Italians involved in the race tested positive for the new coronavirus. It said it would cancel the two remaining legs of the competition in Abu Dhabi.

“Safety comes at the top of all priorities,” the council said.

“All the race’s participants, administrative staff and organisers will be examined through the continuous periodic screening being conducted, and all needed procedures, including quarantine measures, will be taken to ensure viral suppression,” the council added.

That quarantine appeared to ensnare Froome, 34, who was using the tour as a comeback after suffering injuries in a bad 2019 crash.

“It’s a shame that the (hash)UAETour has been cancelled but public health must come first,” Froome wrote on Twitter. “We are all awaiting testing and will remain at the hotel until further notice. I hope those affected make a speedy recovery and there aren’t any further cases (hash)coronavirus.”

Italian team Vini Zabu – KTM tweeted pictures of ambulances outside of an Abu Dhabi hotel hosting the riders and participants.

“Our riders have been tested. Tomorrow morning we will know the results,” the team tweeted. “It’s gonna be a long night and we hope that everyone will come back home without any trouble.”

The United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula also home to Dubai, earlier reported 19 cases of the coronavirus. Several are Iranians, while others are or have links to Chinese tourists.

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”