The Cyclo-cross World Championships in Ostend are expected to go ahead this weekend despite an outbreak of the so-called South African variant of coronavirus in the Belgian coastal resort, with local organisers further limiting those who can attend and calling on everyone else to stay away.
According to Belgian media reports, 15 cases of the possibly more contagious COVID-19 variant have emerged in the last few days. Ostend mayor Bart Tommelein sparked panic and disappointment on Sunday when he first suggested the World Championships could be cancelled.
However, on Monday he backtracked somewhat and suggested the outbreak had been limited, indicating the races on Saturday and Sunday can go ahead.
The UCI has already cancelled the Junior races but Elite and Under 23 races for men and women are still scheduled. As part of a 20-page COVID-19 protocol, riders, team staff, media and everyone allowed to attend the races have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test.
"A large number of test results show that the situation is not as bad as feared. So there is no question of a massive outbreak," Tommelein told Het Laatste Nieuws on Monday.
"Together with the Flemish Minister of Sport, Ben Weyts, and the UCI, we can assume today that the World Championships will go ahead."
Local police will work to stop fans nearing the World Championship course which, includes a loop on the Ostend beach.
"As mayor, I urge you to stay away from the site. The police will ensure that, on the beach, the dike and the road, no walkers, cyclists and cars are allowed in the vicinity of the course," Tommelein made clear.
The racing will be televised, with full coverage here on Cyclingnews.
Rik Debeaussaert, the chairman of the World Championships organizing committee confirmed that the situation will be evaluated daily, with a further tightening of the rules on who can attend the events.
"Everything is organized according to the rules against COVID-19. Everyone will also take a PCR test: riders, entourage, journalists, and staff. The numbers have also been reduced in order to have as few people as possible on our track. It will be safe," he told Het Nieuwsblad.
"Despite the fact that we are not allowed to host an audience and VIPs, we wanted to continue, for the love of the sport. It would be a shame to see four years of work go to waste."
Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado of the Netherlands will try to defend her title in the elite women’s race on Saturday, while Belgium’s Wout Van Aert and eternal Dutch rival Mathieu van der Poel will clash in the Elite men’s race on Sunday.
The cyclo-cross season has safely been held across winter, with crowds carefully limited or banned completely.
"I don’t know why the Worlds can’t take place. Of course, I’m trying to be optimistic. I have worked intensively for the worlds – It would be very sad," Van Aert said after winning the final race of the World Cup series in Overijse near Brussels on Sunday.
"I do wonder what a possible cancellation would solve. We have already shown that it is possible to race a full season. Strict measures apply, everyone contributes to that."
Van der Poel agreed with his rival.
"I’m not a politician, but I see no reason to call it off. We are racing in a closed space. Everyone present must submit a negative PCR test," Van der Poel said.
"There has been nothing all winter, not one positive case, at least not that I know about. That means things can be done safely, so let the World Championships continue."
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