Egan Bernal’s team stops racing amid virus outbreak

AP Photo

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.