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Geraint Thomas inherited the lead of the Giro d’Italia in hugely unfortunate circumstances on Sunday night after world champion and race leader Remco Evenepoel tested positive for Covid-19 in a routine check-up ahead of Monday’s first rest day.
Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) had won Sunday’s 35km stage nine time trial in dramatic fashion, by just one second from Thomas, to reclaim the pink jersey he took on stage one, and set up what many hoped would be a gripping battle for the overall prize over the next two weeks.
However, just hours after his victory, Evenepoel’s team put out a statement announcing that the Belgian had become the latest victim of Covid-19, which is ripping through the peloton, and had already seen off big hitters such as Ineos Grenadiers’ Filippo Ganna and EF Education Easypost’s Rigoberto Uran.
“I am really sorry to be leaving the race,” Evenepoel said in the statement. “As part of the team’s protocol, I took a routine test, which unfortunately was positive. My experience here has been really special and I was looking forward to competing over the next two weeks.
“I can’t thank enough the staff and the riders who sacrificed so much in preparation for the Giro. I will be cheering them on over the next two weeks.”
Evenepoel’s withdrawal deprives neutrals of the chance to see the 23 year-old – last year’s Vuelta a Espana champion – try to hold off the challenge not only of 2018 Tour de France champion Thomas, but also of three-time Vuelta winner Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), and 2020 Giro winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, all of whom lay within a minute of him.
What it does mean, though, is that British fans now have two riders in the top three on GC, with Thomas now leading by two seconds from Roglic, and Geoghegan Hart a further three seconds back. It should still be a fascinating battle, assuming they all stay Covid-free.
Thomas, speaking after his agonising second place finish in Sunday’s time trial, had said he hoped to keep “proving people wrong”.
“It’s the story of my career, proving people wrong, everyone always doubts me and it’s nice to be getting better,” the Welshman said. “We’re all feeling good and everyone’s riding well. There’s still two weeks to go but as a team we’re in a strong position and hopefully we can use that strength and try to do something.”
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