CCC-Liv have pulled out of the first races of the revised calendar in Spain just hours before the start due to fears about new cases of COVID-19 and concerns that other teams and race organisers have not followed the UCI's COVID-19 protocol to ensure a protective, virus-free bubble for the teams.
Marianne Vos and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio were due to lead CCC-Liv in Thursday's Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa and Friday's Klasikoa Navarra but they have decided to stay in a protective bubble in Spain before Sunday's Durango-Durango race.
25 teams, including seven Women's WorldTour teams, were due to race around Pamplona, with local resident and five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain a figurehead for the race.
The top three riders from last year's UCI Road World Championships will headline the races, with Annemiek van Vleuten showing her rainbow bands for the first time since winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in March. She is due to face fellow Worlds medallists Anna van der Breggen and Amanda Spratt.
CCC-Liv are listed on the final start list released by organisers but will not line up on Thursday.
"We have set ourselves a very strict health protocol in recent months. All this to minimise the risks of contamination with COVID-19. We were delighted to finally be able to race again; however on Wednesday, it turned out that the health risks in the Navarra region are too great," CCC-Liv manager Eric van den Boom said in a statement from the team.
"We've followed all protocols and know from the daily health monitoring of riders and staff that none of us are infected with COVID-19. Should we enter the race on Thursday, we will come into contact with riders who, as it turns out, might not have undergone the mandatory RT-PCR test. In addition, the number of infections at the location of the races has considerably increased in two days.
"In consultation with our team doctor, we had to make the difficult decision not to start on Thursday and Friday. Instead, the riders stay together in the protected team bubble in Spain. It is a disappointment for everyone involved in the cycling team, but the health of our people always comes first. The intention is to start in Durango-Durango on Sunday."
Moolman-Pasio took to social media to express her disappointment.
"After weeks of anticipation & hard training, it's disappointing not to race today! However, I can trust that @CCCLivTeam have taken this decision with our health as priority. This is a time to stand up for what's right for the greater good & not only to serve our own interests," Moolman-Pasio wrote on Twitter.
There was no initial response from the race organiser after CCC-Liv's decision.
On Wednesday evening, the Cycling Alliance riders association had warned of the risks of racing in the Navarre area of northern Spain and of the lack of testing among race staff and teams. The UCI has drawn up a detailed COVID-19 protocol but the TCA suggested there was a lock of evidence that the protocol had been followed.
The TCA said they have consulted with their medical advisors and warned that "there are significant risks which may not have been adequately mitigated and we ask the governing body (UCI) ensure it has reviewed the risks of the race, as at today's date, and takes a decision on whether this race should go ahead."
Spain's overall COVID-19 daily new case count has averaged only 18 new infections per 100,000 people per week. However the TCA says the Navarra region's counts are up to 53 per 100,000 per week. According to the World Health Organisation, that would classify the outbreak in the region as phase 4 or 'sustained human-to-human transmission' – a status with increased risk, one step below phase 5/pandemic.
"We are of the view that the risk assessment of the race tomorrow may result in a 'high' rating and this, together with the below, has given the [sic] TCA cause for concern," the TCA wrote. "There is insufficient evidence that the Covid Protocol has been followed, and teams have not received details of the risk assessment from the race organizers."
The Cyclists' Alliance also stated that "not all teams have done the [COVID-19] RT-PCR test", as required under UCI protocols, adding: "We all have been looking forward to racing resuming tomorrow [Thursday] in Spain. We know many of you are at the race already and, as always, your safety is our priority.
"It is very important, to ensure the safety of the remainder of the race calendar that the right decisions are taken when races are scheduled to take place with high risk factors in place."
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