Zika Worries Prompt U.S. Cyclist To Pull Out Of Rio Contention

June 2, 2016

With his wife expecting a baby in October, American road racer Tejay van Garderen has withdrawn from consideration for the Rio Summer Olympics, citing the Zika virus that’s been linked to birth defects.

From a statement released by USA Cycling on van Garderen’s behalf today:

“After thinking long and hard about the Olympic Games in Rio, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for selection in the U.S. team. Although the risks associated with the Zika Virus can be minimal and precautions can be taken, my wife Jessica is pregnant, and I don’t want to risk bringing anything back that could potentially have an effect.”

When asked whether van Garderen is the only American athlete to have withdrawn, a U.S. Olympic Committee official said the organization isn’t aware of any similar cases in which an American Olympic hopeful has opted out of competing in Rio.

A two-time winner of the USA Pro Challenge, van Garderen placed fifth in the Tour de France in 2014 and in 2012 — the same year he raced for the U.S. in the London Olympics. And as the highest-ranked American in the UCI’s most recent world rankings of road cyclists, he had been seen as a strong contender for the U.S. team, whose roster will be finalized this month.

In recent years, van Garderen, 27, has made something of a habit out of bringing his daughter onto the podium to help celebrate when he wins a stage race or other competition.

Back in March, the World Health Organization announced that a scientific consensus had determined “the Zika virus is connected with microcephaly — a condition in which babies are born with very small heads and brain damage,” as NPR’s Michaeleen Doucleff reported.

“If circumstances were different I would have loved to be selected again to represent the USA,” van Garderen said, “but my family takes priority and it’s a decision that I’m completely comfortable with. I hope that I’ll be in the position to race at the 2020 Olympic Games.”

Last month, WHO issued tips for athletes and visitors to Rio. The list ranges from protecting against mosquito bites to using condoms or abstaining from sex during and for eight weeks after a visit.

WHO also said, “Pregnant women continue to be advised not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission. This includes Rio de Janeiro.”

But the agency also noted that the Rio Olympics will be held in August, during Brazil’s winter, meaning that the number of mosquitoes will be relatively low, reducing the risk of being bitten.

That fact was also touted Thursday by leaders of Rio’s Olympics effort who sought to reassure international visitors that it’ll be safe to visit Brazil for the games.

At a news conference, Rio 2016 Organizing Committee President Carlos Nuzman told reporters “there is not a public health risk with Zika,” according to the Around the Rings website.

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