Tour of Flanders goes virtual

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BRUSSELS — Race or no race, the 104th edition of the Tour of Flanders cobblestone cycling classic will have a winner this weekend.

The Belgian race is one of the “Monuments” of cycling – the five most prestigious one-day events in the sport. But the “Ronde” has been scrapped from this season’s calendar because of the coronavirus pandemic. All schools in the country have been shut down, only a handful of businesses remain open for essential needs and riding bikes in large groups has been forbidden.

To keep the festive event alive, organizer Flanders Classics will host a “lockdown edition” of the race on Sunday, with professional riders tackling the punishing Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs from the comfort of their houses, on home trainers.

Belgium’s big hope will be Remco Evenepoel, one of the most promising cyclists of his generation. Evenepoel, who won five races during his first pro season with the Deceuninck-Quick Step team last year, will be among the 13 professional riders taking part in the virtual race.

“I never thought I would make my Monument debut this way, but it’s still better than nothing,” he said. “I guess I’m the first rider in history to race a Monument for the first time on a smart trainer, and as strange as it may sound, I am looking forward to it. From what I understood, it will replicate the conditions of Flanders, so it should be quite a tough test.”

The race, which started in 1913, was canceled for the first time since World War I.

To make this year’s virtual race happen, Flanders Classics have teamed up with TV broadcaster Sporza and technology firms Bkool and Kiswe to develop a digital platform for the virtual route as well as a live streaming app that will allow fans to follow the race.

The event will be reserved to pros and will feature the last 32 kilometers (20 miles) of the route. Sporza said live commentary of the race will be provided by the usual duo of Michel Wuyts and José De Cauwer.

“It’s a difficult time for everyone, but we really hope this project will bring some happiness and a glimmer of hope to all the fans in Belgium and around the world, who will have the possibility to watch us live as we race the final part of Flanders,” said Yves Lampaert, who also rides for Deceuninck-Quick Step.

Along with the Ronde, four other prestigious one-day classic races scheduled this month – Paris-Roubaix, the Fleche Wallonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Amstel Gold race – have all been called off. The Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo were previously postponed along with the Giro d’Italia, which was to start on May 9.

Tour de France organizers have yet to announce a decision on their three-week race, which is set to start in Nice on June 27.

Davide Rebellin dies after hit by truck while training

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MILAN — Italian cyclist Davide Rebellin, one of the sport’s longest-serving professionals, died after being struck by a truck while training. He was 51.

Rebellin was riding near the town of Montebello Vicentino in northern Italy when he was hit by a truck near a motorway junction. The vehicle did not stop, although Italian media reported that the driver may have been unaware of the collision.

Local police are working to reconstruct the incident and find the driver.

Rebellin had only retired from professional cycling last month, bringing to an end a career that had spanned 30 years. He last competed for Work Service-Vitalcare-Dynatek and the UCI Continental team posted a tribute on its social media accounts.

“Dear Davide, keep pedaling, with the same smile, the same enthusiasm and the same passion as always,” the Italian team said. “This is not how we imagined the future together and it is not fair to have to surrender so suddenly to your tragic absence.”

“To your family, your loved ones, your friends and all the enthusiasts who, like us, are crying for you right now, we just want to say that we imagine you on a bicycle, looking for new roads, new climbs and new challenges even up there, in the sky.”

Rebellin’s successes included victories at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico as well as winning a stage in the 1996 edition of the Giro d’Italia, which he also led for six stages.

Rebellin won silver in the road race at the 2008 Olympic Games, but he was later stripped of his medal and banned for two years after a positive doping test. He had denied wrongdoing.

CAS upholds Nairo Quintana DQ from Tour de France for opioid use

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland – The disqualification of two-time Tour de France runner-up Nairo Quintana from his sixth place in the 2022 race for misuse of an opioid was confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

CAS said its judges dismissed Quintana’s appeal and agreed with the International Cycling Union that the case was a medical matter rather than a doping rules violation. He will not be banned.

The court said the judges ruled “the UCI’s in-competition ban on tramadol was for medical rather than doping reasons and was therefore within the UCI’s power and jurisdiction.”

Traces of the synthetic painkiller tramadol were found in two dried blood spot samples taken from the Colombian racer five days apart in July, the UCI previously said.

Quintana’s case is among the first to rely on the dried blood spot (DBS) method of collecting samples which the World Anti-Doping Agency approved last year.

Tramadol was banned in 2019 from use at cycling races because of potential side effects. They include the risk of addiction, dizziness, drowsiness and loss of attention.

Quintana finished second in the Tour de France in 2013 and 2015, won both times by Chris Froome. He won the 2014 Giro d’Italia.