Team Ineos have withdrawn from a number of their upcoming races following the death of their much-loved sports director and because of concerns over coronavirus.
The British WorldTour squad announced on Wednesday night (March 4) that they would be pulling out of six one-day and stages races in March, before returning to the peloton again at the Volta a Catalunya.
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Ineos and the cycling world is mourning the loss of Portal, who died at his home in Andorra earlier this week, aged 40.
The news of Portal’s death has coincided with a hugely uncertain time for the pro peloton because of the Covid-19 virus outbreak, with the threat of cancellation hanging over races as a number of teams have pulled out of events in Italy due to the health concerns.
The morning after Ineos made the announcement, Kazakhstani WorldTour squad Astana announced they won’t be racing until March 20, skipping Strade Bianche, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico.
Sir Dave Brailsford, principal at Team Ineos, said: “This is a uniquely sad moment for everyone at the team. We have lost someone we all loved very much and are all grieving for Nico. I would like to thank everyone for their messages following the tragic news yesterday. They have really meant a lot to us all as we try to come to terms with this terrible news. Nico meant the world to us as a team and it is genuinely touching to know how much he also meant to everyone else across the sport.
“We are taking this decision to put a temporary pause on racing today because of this unique set of circumstances we are facing. It is right for the team given what has happened but I also believe it is in the best interests of both cycling and the wider public.”
The spread of coronavirus around the world has already had a major impact on pro cycling, as a number of smaller races in Asia were cancelled earlier in the year.
Last month, the virus hit the WorldTour as the final two stages of the UAE Tour were abandoned with riders, media and staff being quarantined in their hotels.
Most of those in the UAE were allowed to fly home by Sunday (March 1), but three teams – Cofidis, Groupama-FDJ, and Gazprom-RusVelo – are still locked in their hotels after authorities say they discovered six new cases.
Race organisers in Italy have faced an uncertain few weeks as coronavirus has spread through the north of the country and 11 towns have been placed under lockdown.
Brailsford added: “Cycling is a uniquely mobile sport. We have a duty of care both to our riders and staff but also to the people living in the areas where we race. We do not want to be in a position where our riders become potentially infected or quarantined on race as has already happened. Equally we are acutely aware that these are difficult times for all local health services and we do not want to put any additional pressure or burden whatsoever upon them when all their focus should rightly be on their own local population. Recent events at the UAE Tour have illustrated some of these challenges for cycling as a sport.
“This pause will give us the time to grieve for Nico in private, to support each other at what is a very sad moment and to treasure the memory of a great and much loved teammate and friend. We hope everyone will understand why this is so important to us.”