The Volta ao Algarve has been postponed from its scheduled date of February 17-21 until May 5-9 due to rising COVID-19 cases in Portugal, forcing teams to change their early-season race programmes.
The five-day race has attracted a strong field in recent years, with Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) winning the 2020 event, beating Maximilian Schachmann and Miguel Ángel López. However, Portugal is in lockdown after its daily COVID-19 cases rose to more than 14,600 on Wednesday, the highest total yet recorded in the country.
According to the Associated Press, the pandemic has gained momentum in Portugal since the Christmas holidays, when restrictions on gatherings and movement were eased for four days. Portugal reportedly has the world's highest seven-day average rate of new cases per 100,000 population and the second-highest rate of new deaths, according to data collated through Tuesday by Johns Hopkins University.
A study by the country’s leading disease control agency said a new variant of the virus first identified in southeast England could represent 60% of new COVID-19 cases in Portugal within two weeks.
“Postponement is a difficult decision, but it has become inevitable, given the evolution of the pandemic situation in Portugal,” the race organiser said in an announcement.
“Efforts were immediately made to carry out the 47th Volta ao Algarve next spring. The new scheduled date is the period from 5 to 9 May, although the calendar depends on the consensus with the teams and with the partners involved in the event, and must also be accepted by the International Cycling Union, as it is a race of the UCI ProSeries Circuit.”
With the Tour Down Under, Vuelta a San Juan, Challenge Mallorca, Herald Sun Tour, Tour Colombia and Tour of Antalya already cancelled or postponed, the 2021 Volta ao Algarve had attracted a strong field with a record 14 WorldTour teams on the start list. They will now have to change their race plans and shuffle their line-ups for February.
One-day racing in Europe kicks off with a number of smaller teams riding the Clàssica Comunitat Valenciana 1969 on January 24, before six WorldTour teams ride the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise in France on January 31.
The Saudi Tour and the Tour of Oman have also been cancelled, leaving teams with few options for February. The season debuts of some riders are likely to be delayed as a result.
The cancellation of the Volta ao Algarve will see teams refocus on the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista Del Sol (February 17-21) in southern Spain, the Tour of the Alpes Maritimes and Var (February 19-21) and other races in France.
All 19 WorldTour teams have confirmed their presence at the UAE Tour between February 21-27 with the Middle East race kicking off the 2021 WorldTour. It is currently the only major race to be held outside of Europe.
Belgium's Opening Weekend of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne is still scheduled for February 27-28, with the Italian season kicking off with the Trofeo Laigueglia on March 3.
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