Giro d’Italia leader Remco Evenepoel was forced to pull out of the race late Sunday after contracting Covid-19, gifting Geraint Thomas the pink jersey as the new overall leader.
The dramatic news came just hours after Evenepoel had reclaimed the overall lead by winning the 35km stage nine individual time-trial from Thomas.
“I am really sorry to be leaving the race. As part of the team’s protocol, I took a routine test, which unfortunately was positive,” said the world champion in a team statement.
His forced withdrawal is a bitter blow for the 23-year-old Belgian, who was the favourite to add the Giro to his Vuelta a Espana victory.
“My experience here has been really special and I was looking forward to competing over the next two weeks,” Evenepoel added.
“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,” added he rider who will travel home on Monday by car.
After his gritty stage win Evenepoel had hinted that something was amiss when he said: “I hope I’m not falling ill”.
“It explains everything,” said his team manager Patrick Lefevere. “I hope that everyone will respect his period of recovery and his private life. He is going to return strong”.
Soudal Quick-Step said that all their other riders and staff tested negative.
Rigoberto Uran has also pulled out of the race with Covid, his team EF Education announced while three Jumbo riders were also withdrawn on the eve of the 2023 edition.
Evenepoel’s shock news left Ineos Grenadier’s Thomas, adrift 45sec before Evenepoel’s exit, heading the general classification by two seconds from Primoz Roglic ahead of Monday’s rest day.