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American Tejay van Garderen will not be competing at the Rio Olympics due to concerns about the Zika virus, and the potential for complications for his pregnant wife.
Though USA Cycling has not yet announced its athlete selection, which is expected June 24, van Garderen informed the national federation that he did not wish to be considered. His wife, Jessica, is expecting their second child in October.
“If Jessica were not pregnant right now, assuming I was selected, I would go,” van Garderen told CyclingTips. “But the fact is, she is pregnant. If we were just going to start trying, I’d say we could start trying six months after the Olympics. But when she has a baby in her belly, I don’t want to take any chances.”
The U.S. men have just two spots for the Olympic road events; both riders must compete in both the road race and time trial.
A member of the 2012 Olympic team, van Garderen, 27, was perhaps the rider most likely to be selected to Team USA, due to the hilly nature of the Rio road course.
Though he’s not a time-trial specialist, van Garderen (BMC Racing) is strong against the clock; he finished fourth at the 2012 world time trial championship, and more recently, he won the ITT at the Vuelta a Andalucía/Ruta del Sol in February.
Last week, 150 of the world’s top doctors, researchers and medical ethicists demanded, in a letter to the World Health Organization, that the Rio Games be moved elsewhere or at least postponed because of the Zika Virus.
In a release on May 28, the World Health Organization stated that “based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 countries in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games.”
However, the statement added, “WHO advises pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission. This includes Rio de Janeiro. Pregnant women’s sex partners returning from areas with circulating virus should be counseled to practice safer sex or abstain throughout the pregnancy.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Given the potential risks of maternal Zika virus infection, pregnant women whose male partners have or are at risk for Zika virus infection should be counseled to use condoms every time they have sex, or abstain from sex for the duration of pregnancy.”
Van Garderen said he’d been mulling the decision since last fall, but only recently informed USA Cycling. He said he spoke with USA Cycling’s athletics director Jim Miller, who was understanding.
“Jim didn’t seem to be upset,” van Garderen said. “He asked my opinion, on who else I would bring. I gave him the names of a few guys who are looking good. I think he respects the decision. And I don’t want to sound presumptuous, I still had to be selected. I was not assumed to be on the team. I didn’t meet any automatic criteria, this is more just me taking my name out of the pool of riders.”
Van Garderen, who is now preparing for the Tour de Suisse before his main season goal, the Tour de France, said the Olympic decision came down to prioritizing his family over his Olympic aspirations. And while it was a big decision, he said it ultimately wasn’t a hard decision.
“People are probably going to have different opinions on this. I’m sure they will think what they are going to think, but the fact is, if anything were to happen, I couldn’t live with myself,” he said. “I’m much more at ease with this decision than I would be if I were trying to go to the Olympics.
“Besides,” he said, “I don’t think this will be my last chance to go to the Olympics. I’m sure I’ll still be around in four years.”