Mathieu van der Poel and Alpecin-Fenix haved pulled out of the upcoming Sibiu Cycling Tour due to a spike in coronavirus cases in the area.
Romania, host nation for the four-day race, has seen a record increase in the number of new cases this week as cases elsewhere in Europe have continued to tumble.
On Thursday (July 16), Romanian authorities announced there were 777 new cases of the virus over the last 24 hours, the highest number since the pandemic started.
The rises in cases has thrown the Sibiu Cycling Tour into doubt, as the 2.1-ranked UCI race is scheduled to kick off on July 23.
Van der Poel and his squad are the first team to pull out due to health concerns.
A statement from the Alpecin-Fenix said: “Together with our medical staff and the local organising committee, we closely monitored the situation. Unfortunately, we had to conclude travelling to Romania is not an option. The health of our riders, staff members but also public health is of primary importance. We want to strictly follow all recommendations to eliminate any risk. We would like to express our gratitude towards the local organising committee for their understanding and their cooperation over the last couple of weeks.”
On Tuesday (July 16), the organisers of the race said it was still scheduled to take place despite the crisis, saying that the event will be held under strict health regulations.
A statement from the organisers said: “Despite a recent surge of new Covid-19 cases in Romania, the race is set to take place as planned. Under the regulations by the Romanian government, together with the guidelines laid down by the International Cycling Federation, UCI, all measures are taken to stage the four-day race in the safest possible way.”
The organisers said the number of cases is still within the UCI’s limit of 50 new weekly infections per 100,000 people (Romania is currently at 20.4) while most cases are outside of the Sibiu area.
Van der Poel said: “It is an unfortunate but understandable decision. We added the Sibiu Cycling Tour to my program in order to get extra race rhythm ahead of Strade Bianche. But during our high-altitude camp in La Plagne I felt physically I’m right on schedule. In that way, I can start my Italian program with a good feeling. I am definitely looking forward to race again.”