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Van Aert parachuted into Omloop Het Nieuwsblad amid coronavirus fears

Wout Van Aert (Image credit: Getty Images)

It wasn't on his original racing programme, but Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) will line up at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this weekend amid fears that some of his upcoming races might be cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Van Aert, who placed fourth at the Cyclo-cross World Championships earlier this month, was due to make his road racing season debut with a trio of Italian one-day races: Strade Bianche on March 7, GP Industria & Artigianato on March 8, and Milan San-Remo on March 21. 

However, all three races are currently at risk due to the spread of coronavirus, with Italy seeing an alarming number of cases over the past week. More than 300 people there have tested positive for the novel virus, and 11 have died as a result.  

The worst affected area is the Lombardy region in the north of the country, with a number of towns currently on lockdown. That puts Milan-San Remo at particular risk, given it starts in Milan and works its way down through Lombardy before tracking along the Ligurian coast. 

Strade Bianche and the GP Industria both take place in Tuscany, a little further south, but there have been cases reported in that region, too. 

"With Van Aert's start in the Omloop, we anticipate a possible cancellation of other races on his program," read a statement from Jumbo-Visma. 

Some football matches in Italy's top league this weekend are to be played behind closed doors, while there are growing concerns about the remaining Six Nations rugby matches involving the Italian national side.

Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad takes place on Saturday with a 200-kilometre route that takes in many of the cobbled climbs that will feature in the Tour of Flanders and other spring Classics. Van Aert has not been named for Sunday's Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, which completes the so-called 'Opening Weekend' of the Classics season. 

Perhaps mindful of the long gap to Flanders on April 5 and Paris-Roubaix on April 12, Van Aert had originally opted to skip the Opening Weekend but Omloop may end up being his only racing outing ahead of the E3 BinckBank Classic and the start of the Flemish cycling week on March 27.

The coronavirus outbreak has already caused much disruption in cycling. The Tour of Hainan was postponed before the UCI stepped in and postponed all races in China in April and May, including the Women's WorldTour Tour of Chongming Island. There are even concerns that, if the virus isn't contained soon, the Olympic Games could be under threat

The virus originated in Wuhan in eastern China but has since spread around the world, with 80,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,500 deaths. Italy is the country worst affected outside Asia.

Earlier this week, RCS Sport chief Mauro Vegni told Cyclingnews he was particularly worried about Milan-San Remo, with no Plan-B in mind, and that the organisation's other races are also at risk, including Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Giro d'Italia.