Wout van Aert will make his Classics return this weekend, as the Belgian changes his plans because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Jumbo-Visma have announced that Van Aert will race Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, bringing the start of his road season forward by a week.
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The decision was taken because of fears the Italian one-day races, where Van Aert was due to kickstart his season, could be cancelled because of the spread of Covid-19.
Jumbo-Visma said: “The Omloop was originally not scheduled for Van Aert. With his participation, Jumbo-Visma anticipates a possible cancellation of other races on Van Aert’s calendar.”
Earlier this week, race director Mauro Vegni told Italian media that Milan – San Remo, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro d’Italia could all be cancelled because of the virus, as the number of people infected in Italy passed 150.
“We are very worried about the spread of the epidemic because the situation in Italy is really difficult,” Vegni, the director of RCS Sport, told Corriere.
A handful of football matches in Italy have been postponed, while schools and universities have been closed, and Milan fashion week is being held behind closed doors, as cases in Italy increased to 322 and 11 people have died there.
Van Aert’s return to road racing has been much anticipated, after his stunning debut WorldTour year in 2019, which saw him win four races including a stage of the Tour de France.
But his season was detailed during the Tour’s stage 13 time trial, when he crashed and suffered a deep wound to his leg that took him out for the rest of the season.
He returned to cyclocross racing during the winter, in preparation for his return to the peloton early this year,