After testing positive for COVID-19 on Sunday evening, Giro d’Italia race leader Remco Evenepoel started the long journey home by car from Italy to Belgium on Monday morning.
The world champion won Sunday’s stage 9 time trial – albeit by a smaller margin than expected – and later complained of a blocked nose in the post-stage press conference. Three and a half hours later, a routine COVID-19 test – taken by all Soudal-QuickStep team members as part of intra-team precautions – turned up a positive result for the virus.
With that, Evenepoel became the seventh rider to leave the Giro with COVID-19, a decision taken by both team and rider to protect his health and to prevent further spread around the team and the peloton.
Evenepoel wore a mask on Monday morning to bid farewell to his teammates, while a team car was packed up with his belongings ahead of the long drive home.
Team boss Patrick Lefevere commented (opens in new tab) that the team was taking “no risks” with their rider, while team press officer Phil Lowe, speaking to assembled media at the team hotel as Evenepoel left the race on Monday, further explained the decision.
“We decided this for the rider, the team and the race – we immediately wanted to contain this so it won’t spread further in the team or the Giro,” Lowe said, according to Het Nieuwsblad (opens in new tab).
“Everyone is trying to stay positive through it all. It is what it is. It’s something we’ve known about for three or four years, so we have to deal with it and move on.
“Could the Giro have done more? I’m not going to blame anyone. That’s life. He could have caught it anywhere. You can’t put 200km of barriers. It could have happened on a climb or at the airport.”
The 23-year-old, who retook the maglia rosa after the time trial having earlier worn it for three days after his opening stage victory, was “calm” when the test result came through, Lowe said.
“He was quite calm about it. Later in the evening, he laughed again. I think he accepted it for what it is. The atmosphere was a bit depressed initially, but then we had a glass of wine, after which everything could settle.
“Good question,” he added, responding to a question on when Evenepoel might return to racing.
“We’re going to take some time to let this sink in and then decide in the coming weeks.”
Heal up, champ 💪We and the #Giro are going to miss you, but we’re sure more opportunities to show yourself will come sooner or later!Photo: @BeelWout…
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