Israeli cycling team locked down in UAE as race nixed over coronavirus

Riders being tested and may be forced to remain in quarantine in Gulf emirate; tour had hosted Start-Up Nation squad for first time

A man wearing a surgical masks looks on as the pack rides by during stage five the UAE Cycling Tour from al-Maroom to Jebel Hafeet, in Dubai on February 27, 2020. (Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)
A man wearing a surgical masks looks on as the pack rides by during stage five the UAE Cycling Tour from al-Maroom to Jebel Hafeet, in Dubai on February 27, 2020. (Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A UAE bike race that had been the first to feature an Israeli team in the Gulf emirate was abandoned Thursday after two Italian cyclists tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said, with teams and riders reported to be under lockdown in their hotels.

“The remaining stages of the UAE Tour are cancelled after two cyclists from Italy tested positive for the new coronavirus,” said the Abu Dhabi Sports Council in a statement to the official WAM news agency.

Organizers said that all participants in the race, which was due to finish on Saturday, will be tested for the virus which hit Italy hardest in Europe.

Omer Goldstein, a rider with the Israel Start-up Nation team, said that athletes had been told about the cancellation in the middle of the night and the team was now awaiting the results of tests.

“We are all awaiting tests and under the supervision of the team’s doctor. The team is calm. The tests will done in the next hour,” the team said in a statement, before later adding that the results are expected on Saturday.

The teams had been staying at a hotel on Yas Island outside of Abu Dhabi.

According to a report in the Italian press, only those who test positive for the virus will be put in quarantine while the rest will be allowed to return home Saturday. However, the VeloNews racing website said that decision could change overnight.

The pack pedals during the fourth stage of the tour of United Arab Emirates cycling race, from Zabeel Park to Dubai City Walk, in United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (Massimo Paolone/LaPresse via AP)

With the race abandoned, Briton Adam Yates, who led after five stages, was set to be declared the winner.

“The final two days of racing are cancelled due to concerns around Coronavirus,” tweeted Yates’s Mitchelton team.

“Riders and staff remain in the hotel and will be tested shortly, with their health taking priority. We hope anyone affected makes a fast recovery.”

England’s Chris Froome of Ineos Team crosses the finish line after the second stage of the UAE cycling tour in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb, 24, 2020. (AP/ Mahmoud Khaled)

“It’s a shame that the #UAETour has been cancelled but public health must come first,” tweeted British star Chris Froome, a four-time winner of the Tour de France.

“We are all awaiting testing and will remain at the hotel until further notice. I hope those affected make a speedy recovery and there aren’t any further cases #coronavirus.”

The United Arab Emirates has so far recorded 13 cases of contamination from the virus.

Italy, meanwhile, has seen 650 people infected and 17 deaths. The Italian team started the race with 24 riders.

On Thursday, Israel announced it was banning any non-citizens who had been in Italy over the last 14 days, and flights between Israel and Italy were canceled. The decision came an hour after Israel announced that a citizen who had returned from Italy had tested positive for COVID-19.

A woman wearing a sanitary mask walks past the Duomo di Milano cathedral in Milan, Italy, February 23, 2020.(Luca Bruno/AP)

The moves by Israel and other countries seeking to prevent an outbreak drew protests from Rome.

“In Italy, we’ve gone from an epidemic risk to an ‘info-demic’ of confirmed disinformation, which at this moment is hitting our flow of tourists, our business and our whole economic system,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.

The Israeli team’s participation in the UAE bike race was seen as a significant breakthrough in attempts by the Jewish state to foster normalization in moderate Gulf states.

“The participation in this race by our Israeli team in a Middle Eastern nation is emblematic of how cycling can be a force for diplomatic openness and progress,” team co-owner Sylvan Adams said ahead of the race.

Israel Start-Up Nation cycling team members pose before the start of the first stage of the UAE Tour from the Pointe to Silicon Oasis in Dubai on February 23, 2020. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

The team members said they were surprised by the warm reception they received in the UAE, where expatriates make up about 90 percent of the population.

“After the initial shock to see the ‘Israel Startup Nation logo,’ some of them waved with friendly smiles and even asked for selfies,” the team said after a visit to a Dubai cycling park.

The pack rides during the third stage of the UAE Cycling Tour from al-Maroom to Jebel Hafeet, on February 24, 2020. (Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

Thursday’s events in the UAE came just a day after Italian golfers Edoardo Molinari and Lorenzo Gagli were quarantined in nearby Oman over coronavirus fears before being cleared to play in the country’s European Tour event.

Gagli had suffered flu-like symptoms and as Molinari, the older brother of former British Open winner Francesco, was his roommate, both were forced to withdraw from the tournament and placed in isolation as a precautionary measure.

However, they were then cleared to play after the Oman health ministry reported that Gagli’s test results were negative.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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