UAE Team Emirates have been forced to pull out of Wednesday’s Ardennes Classic, Flèche Wallonne, after two positive Covid-19 tests within the team.
The team announced shortly before the race that they would not be taking to the start after rider Diego Ulissi and another member of staff, who were both vaccinated earlier this year, returned a positive test for coronavirus on the eve of the race (April 20).
Both Ulissi and the member of staff returned negative tests in the days before travelling to Belgium, and have since returned negative results in subsequent tests and are displaying no symptoms of the virus. In accordance with Belgian authorities however, the team are unable to start the 193.6km race.
UAE Team Emirates said: “Since the original ‘positive’ test, both members have undergone three separate tests each: two antigen and one molecular. All the results from these subsequent tests returned negative results and neither displays any symptoms.
“Though the team is frustrated by the ruling, we fully accept the final decision of the Belgian authorities. The team will withdraw from the race and undergo further testing with the aim to start Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.”
The team were set to be led by 2020 Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar and defending champion Marc Hirschi at this year’s Flèche, but both will now be forced to refocus on La Doyenne at the weekend.
In January, 59 members of the team were vaccinated against the coronavirus using China’s Sinopharm CNBG vaccine while they were in Abu Dhabi. They are so far the only team to announce a mass vaccination of staff and riders.
UAE Team Emirates are far from the first team forced to miss Belgian Classics due to positive tests; Bora-Hansgrohe missed the E3 Saxo Bank Classic after a positive test, Trek-Segafredo were unable to take part in Ghent-Wevelgem, and Groupama-FDJ were forced out of Scheldeprijs. Earlier in the year Mathieu van der Poel’s Alpecin-Fenix team had to leave the UAE Tour after a staff member tested positive, before then having to miss the Volta a Catalunya in March.
Belgium is beginning to consider easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions after a recent decline in infections, having suffered a severe surge in March.