Israel-Premier Tech will not ride the Tour of Flanders on Sunday due to illness and injury, with the team unable to field enough healthy riders.
In a press statement on Friday morning, Israel-Premier Tech's general manager Kjell Carlström said that the decision had been made "out of respect for the race and the rest of the peloton" after two Covid cases in the camp.
The team will also not be riding next Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs, which is also organised by Flanders Classics.
Illness continues to impact the professional peloton, depleting teams and affecting riders. On Thursday, Jumbo-Visma said it was "unlikely" that Wout van Aert would take to the start line on Sunday.
Patrick Lefevere, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl's boss, said on Thursday that 11 of his riders were currently out of action due to bad health.
Israel-Premier Tech have been badly affected by illness in recent weeks, and were only able to fill five of the seven spots available to them at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.
In the run up to the Tour of Flanders, the team have not managed any notable results, with their best rider finishing 38th at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, 55th at Gent-Wevelgem, and 42nd at Dwars. They have managed just won win this season, a stage of Gran Camiño through Michael Woods.
With the squad also riding in Spain this weekend, at the GP Miguel Indurain, and then at Itzulia Basque Country from Monday, they do not have enough riders to cover all the races.
“This is a very regrettable situation and we are extremely disappointed to have to withdraw from Ronde van Vlaanderen," Carlström said. "This decision has not been taken lightly but we feel this is our only option at this stage. It is no secret we have had covid and other illness and also crash-induced injuries wiping out the majority of our riders at one stage or another in recent weeks.
"Right now, we have very few healthy riders who could take to the start line, but they are now close contacts, and it is out of respect for the race and the rest of the peloton, that we are making this decision. It is our duty of care to the other teams to not be willingly sending riders who have been exposed to covid into a race."
There have been very few acknowledged cases of covid in the peloton, with 'normal' illness impacting riders the most. Back in February, whole teams were forced to withdraw from the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana due to Covid cases.
Carlström said that not racing Flanders would allow his riders to "hit the reset button". Paris-Roubaix is a week later than usual this year, so the team might still be able to make an impact in the north of Europe this spring.
“By withdrawing from the race, we are allowing our cobbled classics riders to recover and hit the reset button," he said. "No one is more disappointed than us but hopefully, this decision will allow us to save the remainder of the spring season and get back on track.”
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