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Italian team pursuit squad hit by COVID-19 before European championships

The Italian men's team pursuit squad
The Italian men's team pursuit squad (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Italian men’s track team have delayed their departure for this week’s European Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, after two further riders tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

World time trial champion Filippo Ganna tested positive for the virus on Thursday after showing symptoms, and fellow men’s team pursuit riders Liam Bertazzo and Michele Scartezzini were then confirmed as positive on Saturday.

Like Ganna, they returned home with minor symptoms and went into self isolation, while the rest of the team delayed their departure until Tuesday so they can undergo a further PCR test in Italy on Monday. 

So far, all the other riders have tested negative after the squad underwent four tests in just eight days, but they face a disrupted build-up to the European Track Championships. The racing begins on Wednesday with the team pursuit qualification. 

The Italian women’s team will also be in action in Bulgaria but they have not been impacted by the COVID-19 cases due to their limited contact with the men’s squad during final track training, as many of their riders competed in the Madrid Challenge road race in Spain.

France have already pulled out of the European championships due to concerns about COVID-19. Bulgaria has a similar number of COVID-19 cases as Britain, but lower than Italy and France.  

“The virus is invisible  and it’s not easy to understand how it spreads,” Italian national coach Marco Villa told Italian website Bici.pro .

Italy are keen to race to retain their  team pursuit ranking before the 2021 season and the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games. Villa has called up Under 23 riders Gidas Umbri and Matteo Donegà to replace Bertazzo and Michele Scartezzini. 

“It’s the European Championships and it only seems right to respect the hard work  Enrico Della Casa (the UEC general secretary) has done to put on the event. We haven’t ridden a team pursuit event since March and so it would be really important considering the Olympics,” Villa said.

“The staff and equipment are already in Bulgaria. I’ve selected Gidas Umbri to have four riders for the team pursuit, while Donegà will be our fifth rider and take part in the other events. Umbri was recently second in the team time trial championships and was in the team that finished second in the under 23 team pursuit.

“That’s my Plan B. If someone else is out of action, then Plan C will be to just ride the individual pursuit with Milan. And then hopefully have a far less stressful 2021.”