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Wout van Aert will make his first road racing start of the year at this weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in what marks a change of plans for the Belgian. The Jumbo-Visma squad is shifting its approach in preparation for the potential cancellation – due to coronavirus – of Italian events on the upcoming calendar.
“With van Aert’s start in the Omloop, we anticipate a possible cancellation of other races on his program,” the team said in a statement.
Van Aert’s early season program has been expected to include Strade Bianche, the GP Industria and Artigianato, and Milano-Sanremo, but the coronavirus outbreak in Italy has led to growing concerns that races could be called off. Italian authorities have already shut down schools and other public events as the number of confirmed cases of the virus there has surged to over 300.
Some events outside of Italy, like the Tour of Hainan in China, have already been called off due to the virus.
Van Aert has finished third at Strade Bianche for the past two years in a row. Prior to Wednesday, the race was set to mark van Aert’s 2020 road racing debut, but that debut has been moved up to this Saturday in Belgium. The Omloop will also mark van Aert’s first racing appearance since July of last year, when he suffered serious injuries in a crash during the time trial stage of the Tour de France.
Van Aert spent months recovering before returning to competition in cyclocross events in late December. Since then, he has been focused on building his way back into form for this year’s Spring Classics.
Joining van Aert at the Omloop will be Amund Grondahl Jansen, Mike Teunissen, Pascal Eenkhoorn, Taco van der Hoorn, Maarten Wynants, and Bert-Jan Lindeman.