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UAE Team Emirates withdraw from La Flèche Wallonne due to COVID-19 positive

ONDARROA SPAIN APRIL 09 Valerio Conti of Italy Jan Polanc of Slovenia Diego Ulissi of Italy Brandon Mcnulty of United States and UAE Team Emirates Yellow Leader Jersey Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia and UAE Team Emirates Polka Dot Mountain Jersey during the 60th ItzuliaVuelta Ciclista Pais Vasco 2021 Stage 5 a 1602km stage from Hondarribia to Ondarroa itzulia ehitzulia on April 09 2021 in Ondarroa Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images
Diego Ulissi among the UAE Team Emirates squad at Itzulia Basque Country (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

UAE Team Emirates have been ruled out of La Flèche Wallonne after Diego Ulissi and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on the eve of the race.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, UAE Team Emirates said that Ulissi and the staff member had since returned repeated negative tests but the team of Tadej Pogačar and defending champion Marc Hirschi will not participate in La Flèche Wallonne.

“Though the team is frustrated by the ruling, we fully accept the final decision of the Belgian authorities,” read a statement from UAE Team Emirates.

“The team will withdraw from the race and undergo further testing with the aim to start Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday.”

UAE Team Emirates are the latest WorldTour team to miss a Belgian Classic due to coronavirus cases this season. Bora-Hansgrohe were withheld from the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem after several of their riders were placed in quarantine, while Trek-Segafredo missed Gent-Wevelgem and later withdrew from Scheldeprijs as a precautionary measure.

The bulk of the UAE Team Emirates riders and staff received a COVID-19 vaccine during the squad’s pre-season training camp in the United Arab Emirates, though Ulissi was not present as he was undergoing a period of rest after being diagnosed with myocarditis. The Italian was later given the all-clear to compete and he returned to racing at the GP Miguel Indurain this month.

According to UAE Team Emirates, both Ulissi and the staff member – who was vaccinated – had returned two negative tests for COVID-19 before travelling to Belgium.

“The 2 members of the team concerned, Diego Ulissi and one staff member (who is also vaccinated), returned 2 negative tests in the days before travelling to Belgium,” said the team. “Upon arrival to Belgium both underwent a subsequent test which returned a positive result.”

UAE Team Emirates said that Ulissi and the staff member had each since returned two negative antigen tests and one negative molecular test, adding that neither had any symptoms.

Pogačar took to social media on Wednesday morning to express his frustration at missing Flèche Wallonne, described the case as a “false positive.”

“We all have negative and we don’t start Flèche Wallone,” Pogačar wrote on Twitter. “We had false positive yesterday but came three times negative afterwards.”

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