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Giro d’Italia leader Remco Evenepoel is out of the race following a positive COVID-19 test on Sunday evening, his Soudal-QuickStep team has announced.
Evenepoel had sped to victory in the stage 9 time trial in the afternoon, edging out Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) by under a second on the 35km test in Cesena.
However, hours later, after the world champion took the race lead and donned the maglia rosa, news filtered through that he had been forced out of the Italian Grand Tour.
“I am really sorry to be leaving the race,” Evenepoel said in a statement released by his team. “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.”
Giro d’Italia stage 9: Remco Evenepoel wins time trial to take maglia rosa
Evenepoel rues pacing error despite victory in Giro d’Italia time trial
‘Everyone always doubts me’ – Geraint Thomas on pushing Evenepoel to the line
Filippo Ganna leaves Giro d’Italia with COVID-19, dealing blow to Ineos
The 23-year-old was one of the favourites for victory at the Grand Tour, having opened his account with a dominant victory in the stage 1 time trial. He held pink for three days before ceding it to Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM) at Lago Laceno, retaking it with a 45-second lead on Thomas on Sunday.
There were trials and tribulations along the way, including two crashes on the fifth stage to Salerno. He wasn’t quite at top form on stage 9, starting out quickly but not riding his best time trial after having fallen earlier in the week and measuring his pacing incorrectly.
“That explains everything,” said Soudal-QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere on Twitter after the news of the COVID-19 positive came out on Sunday night.
In what turned out to be a warning sign for what was to come, during the press conference following the stage Evenepoel said that he was suffering from a blocked nose and hoped that he wouldn’t suffer any further illness.
“I think you can also hear that my nose is a bit blocked,” he said. “I’m quite light, I’m quite skinny in terms of fat percentage, so the rainy conditions are not my favourite conditions.
“I have to be careful not to become sick exactly. Let’s touch wood that it’s not a virus. We will see.”
In a personal statement issued on Sunday night, Evenepoel said he was leaving the race with a “heavy heart”, adding thanks to his team, before concluding, “Still very proud to leave with two stage wins and four pink jerseys.”
Evenepoel will travel home from the race by car on Monday, Soudal-QuickStep said. The team announced that all other riders and staff members had tested negative.
Thomas is now set to wear the maglia rosa when the race restarts with a 196km stage to Viareggio following Monday’s rest day. He leads Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) by two seconds in the overall standings.
At the start of the season, due to the “clearly favourable evolution of the international health situation”, the UCI announced that COVID-19 health protocols for testing, vaccinations, and health passes had “been lifted” in the sport. As a result, it has been left up to teams to enforce their own protocols as they see fit.
The early months of the season seemed to pass without any notable clusters of cases in the WorldTour peloton, though cases re-emerged at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour de Romandie in late April. In the run-up to the Giro, several riders – including Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) and Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma) were forced to miss the race after displaying COVID-19 symptoms and returning positive tests.
Teams now conduct testing on their own terms, often carrying out COVID-19 testing only when riders or staff members display symptoms of the virus.
Evenepoel is the latest rider at the Giro to fall victim to COVID-19, and following EF Education-EasyPost rider Rigoberto Urán‘s positive earlier in the day, becomes the sixth rider to leave the race after testing positive.
The pair join Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), Nicola Conci (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Giovanni Aleotti (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Clément Russo (Arkéa-Samsic) on the list of riders forced to withdraw with COVID-19 so far during this Giro