London (AFP) - Cycling giants INEOS announced on Wednesday they will take a three-week break from racing after the death of sports director Nicolas Portal and in light of concerns over coronavirus.
Portal died at the age of 40 in his home in Andorra on Tuesday.
INEOS, who count four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, 2018 champion Geraint Thomas as well as 2019 winner Egan Bernal among their riders, will not field teams in prestigious races such as Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo.
"Team INEOS have today taken the decision to withdraw temporarily from all racing until the Volta a Catalunya on March 23," the team said in a statement.
"We have taken this decision given the unique set of circumstances we are facing following yesterday’s tragic news about Nico Portal.
"And clearly we recognise there is also a very uncertain situation with Coronavirus more widely."
The UAE Tour was cancelled last week after two Italian staff members on the race had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
After the initial cases, cyclists, team staff and some media were put under lockdown at hotels in Abu Dhabi where they underwent screening, with most cleared to leave over the past few days.
However, two French teams, Cofidis and Groupama, will be kept in quarantine in the UAE until March 14.
"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," said INEOS team manager Dave Brailsford.
"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."