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Israeli cycling competitors depart UAE after coronavirus scare cuts event short

Start-Up Nation team – part of a bid for normalization with moderate Gulf states – says it is leaving the Emirates with a clean bill of health after undergoing tests

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)

Teams taking part in the abandoned UAE Tour began leaving Abu Dhabi on Sunday after being quarantined amid a coronavirus scare.

Among participants was a group of Israeli cyclists who were the first from the Jewish state to take part in the event.

Israel’s Start-Up Nation team said it left with a “clean health bill and all” after the three-day drama.

One of the top cyclists in the race, Britain’s Chris Froome, was also headed home along with members of his Team Ineos, after being in lockdown at their Abu Dhabi hotel since Thursday when two Italian staff members with one of the teams tested positive.

“All our riders and staff now leaving UAE after being given the all clear. Thank you to all those who have helped us and looked after the Team over recent days,” the team said on Twitter.

Movistar Team, including 2018 world champion Alejandro Valverde, also tweeted that its members were cleared and on their way to Madrid.

“The pleasure of going home after several days spent at the hotel,” Valverde tweeted.

Dutch team Jumbo-Visma said they were “on the plane back home.”

However, journalists who were confined to a separate hotel were believed to still be under lockdown along with a number of other teams including France’s Cofidis whose rider Nathan Haas tweeted that “our team is required to stay longer.”

“Some of us are still in our rooms in Abu Dhabi with little information despite testing negative for the virus,” said Cofidis’s Spanish rider Jesus Herrada.

And the UAE’s Team Emirates said that although their results came back negative “our team has decided to extend their stay in the UAE to continue testing everyone’s conditions.”

All 133 cyclists who were still in contention as well as team members were tested after the two cases were announced by organizers Thursday, forcing the event to be cancelled with two stages left to go.

Danish cyclist Michael Morkov of the Deceuninck–Quick-Step team, who took part in the first four stages, was placed in isolation in his hotel room after arriving in Berlin to take part in the world track championships.

However, on Saturday, he too was cleared to take part.

“The rider present in Berlin is currently in excellent health, with no suspicious clinical signs, and we are also guaranteed that he has not contacted the two members of the management of a team participating in the UAE Tour, originally suspected of coronavirus,” governing body UCI said in a statement.

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.

A member of Israel’s cycling team is seen in the United Arab Emirates, February 22, 2020. (Courtesy)

“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 had said ahead of the race.

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.

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