The Soudal-QuickStep team has been further diminished at the Giro d’Italia, with just two riders entering the final week after the withdrawal of Davide Ballerini.
The Italian did not start stage 16 on Tuesday morning, with his team citing ‘illness’ as the reason.
Ballerini is the sixth QuickStep rider to make an early exit from the 2023 Giro, with team leader and pre-race favourite Remco Evenepoel the first to go after testing positive for COVID-19 just after his victory in the stage 9 time trial.
Just one stage later, they were down to three, as no fewer than four riders pulled out ahead of stage 11 after also contracting COVID-19: Louis Vervaeke, Josef Cerny, Jan Hirt, and Mattia Cattaneo.
The three remaining riders made it through the second week but now Ballerini leaves the team with just two for the final week: Ilan Van Wilder and Pieter Serry.
Van Wilder, who was Evenepoel’s right-hand man, sits 16th overall, while Serry has already shown ambitions to get in the breakaway on stage 16.
Ballerini was one of three non-starters on Tuesday’s big mountain stage that finishes on Monte Bondone.
Simon Clarke (Israel-Premier Tech), who came close to a breakaway stage win earlier in the race, also left through illness.
“I’ve been battling some sickness for a few days and it’s not getting any better,” he said. “Together with the team we have decided that I stop now and go home to recover.”
The other non-starter was Trek-Segafredo’s Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier, who crashed on stage 14 and has been suffering pain in his ribs.
The Giro peloton is down to 129 riders, losing 47 since the 176 riders started out just over a fortnight ago.
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