Egan Bernal’s team stops racing amid virus outbreak

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BRUSSELS — After the team of Tour de France champion Egan Bernal withdrew from all races over the next three weeks, Astana became the latest outfit to stop racing on Thursday because of the virus outbreak.

The team managed by Alexandre Vinokourov said it decided to withdraw from races for 15 days.

“With this measurement, we have chosen to protect the health of our riders and staff and to take our responsibility for the society in not further spreading the virus,” Vinokourov said. “Of course, we would have preferred to participate in all upcoming races, but for now, it’s safety first.”

Team Ineos earlier said it notified cycling governing body UCI of its decision to “withdraw temporarily from all racing” until the Volta a Catalunya on March 23.

Ineos, the team of former Tour de France winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, said it took the decision in the wake of sports director Nicolas Portal’s death this week, and because of the “very uncertain situation with coronavirus.”

Portal, a former rider who turned into a team official and helped guide four-time Tour champion Froome and Bernal to victory at the race, died suddenly at his home in Andorra on Tuesday.

Ineos riders were scheduled to compete at six races before March 23, including the prestigious Strade Bianche, the week-long Paris-Nice, and the famed one-day classic Milan-San Remo. Bernal was set to defend his Paris-Nice title from March 8.

“We are taking this decision to put a temporary pause on racing today because of this unique set of circumstances we are facing,” Ineos manager Dave Brailsford said. “It is right for the team given what has happened but I also believe it is in the best interests of both cycling and the wider public.”

Race organizers ASO, who also own the Tour de France, said on Thursday they still plan to go ahead with Paris-Nice.

In a sport involving constant traveling across the world with cyclists very close to spectators on open roads, the impact of the virus outbreak has been escalating. This week, Australian outfit Mitchelton-Scott decided to withdraw from racing until March 22, and Dutch team Jumbo-Visma announced it would skip Saturday’s Strade Bianche.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health in the United Arab Emirates announced that six more people with links to the UAE Tour that was cut short last week have been infected with the virus that started in China and has spread to 70 countries. They were all linked to two previous cases involving Italians, the ministry said.

The last two stages of the UAE Tour were canceled on Feb. 28 after two virus cases among team staff members.

Ineos said it has a duty to preserve the health of its staff and riders “in what is a very fast moving and challenging situation. We have taken the best medical advice and recognize that these are exceptional times for everyone — beyond just cycling.”

The UCI has so far stopped short of canceling this month’s planned events, leaving authorities in the concerned countries with the decision.

“The organizers and all members of the cycling family will be obliged to comply to any such decision,” the UCI said this week.

According to cycling website Cyclingnews, doctors from 11 cycling teams have written to race organizers ASO and RCS Sport, and the UCI, requesting the cancellation of upcoming races. The UCI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

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.”