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“The problem is we just don’t know anything at the moment.”
When asked what happens if coronavirus leading to the cancellation of several key early-season races, Mitchelton-Scott director sportif Julian Dean’s statement speaks for many.
Days after RCS Sport revealed races, including Milano-Sanremo, could be canceled due to an outbreak of coronavirus in the Italian region of Lombardy, teams are holding firm and hoping for the best.
“The Italian races, we just don’t know anything right now,” said Jumbo-Visma director Grischa Niermann told VeloNews, Tuesday. “We have to think about alternative plan-Bs, but we’re not going to start making alternative race schedules or anything just yet. We still need confirmation.”
Right now, the so-called “red zones” are in areas of Lombardy and Veneto in northern Italy, meaning Milan-San Remo could be in the crosshairs. As of now, Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico are not near infected areas, so those races are not currently at risk. RCS Sport director Mauro Vegni said his staff is monitoring the fast-changing situation, and are working to assure that the races can be held safely.
The questions about how cycling might be impacted come against a backdrop of the so-called coronavirus hitting Europe for the first time this week. Other cases are popping up, including in Spain, and officials are working hard to try to limit the spread of the virus and retain Europe’s open borders.
With Strade Bianche less than two weeks away, teams are still in the dark about what will happen to the 2020 edition. And that’s not through lack of communication or decision from RCS Sport; the decision is in the hands of Italian health officials. The local authorities have put several communities under quarantine and canceled sporting events in areas of Lombardy and Veneto, and are waiting to see if the outbreak calms before making further plans.
“We’re not hearing much from RCS because they don’t know what’s happening either,” Niermann said.
“We’re just going to hold tight at the moment and see how it plays out,” said Dean. His Mitchelton-Scott team is currently planning to use Tirenno-Adriatico as the next step for Adam Yates, after his run at the overall in UAE Tour. “We’re going to give it another four to five days about if they manage to contain it. “The problem is we just don’t know anything at the moment,” he said.
Under the current situation, only portions of the Milan-San Remo route, which rolls through Lombardy toward the Italian Riviera, are near an affected areas.
Milano-Sanremo marks the first major benchmark in the cycling calendar, with the first of cycling’s monument races forming a major part of many riders’ ambitions for the year. Likewise, Tirreno-Adriatico — which lies beyond the current “red zones” — is seen as an essential form-building race for grand tour and classics riders alike.
In the meantime, teams are going back to drawing boards and establishing plan-Bs and ‘what-ifs’. However, juggling calendars and finding races to replace any cancelled events with such short notice could be either impractical or impossible due to logistics, clashes with other riders’ schedules, or a pure lack of alternative races. One key blow, for example, would be in the case of Tirreno-Adriatico, which clashes on the calendar with Paris-Nice.
For some teams, the sudden outbreak in Italy extends further than the matter of race schedules.
“The problem for us is that we’ve got our service course up in Italy, near Varese,” said Dean. “We could be really stuck for getting staff and equipment in and out. We can’t go trying to pull resources out of the SC ‘just in case’ because we may need to just take it all back if the scare quietens. There’s not much we can do at this moment until we get a bit more indication about what’s happening. “
As teams’ management wait and hold their breath over race schedules, riders’ concerns for their own health and hygiene are heightened, further.
“Riders always have taken things like hygiene really serious and they and the medical staff are doing all they can to be vigilant,” said UAE Team Emirates director Neil Stephens. “We have the added issue that we travel so much. We’re certainly going to be avoiding any problem areas.”
VeloNews has contacted RCS Sport Director Mauro Vengi for comment and will keep VeloNews updated as appropriate.