Remco Evenepoel has left the Giro d'Italia following a positive Covid test on Sunday evening. The Soudal Quick-Step rider was in the pink jersey after Sunday's stage nine time trial, but will now be replaced by Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), who is now in the virtual race lead.
The world champion regained the maglia rosa after winning the the race against the clock in Cesena on Sunday by one second over Thomas, but that is immaterial now, after he tested positive for Covid later that evening.
Evenepoel will travel home on Monday, Soudal Quick-Step announced via a statement, in a blow for both his team and the race. The Belgian was one of the two outstanding favourites for the race alongside Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), and won both time trial stages of the Giro in the first week, spending four days in pink.
He tested positive for the virus in a test which was taken by the team, not mandated by the race organisers.
In a Quick-Step statement, Evenepoel said: “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.
"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."
According to the Belgian team, all other staff and riders tested negative for Covid. He was not the first rider to leave the race due to the virus, with Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) the most high-profile of other riders to head home because of it.
Just hours before the statement, Evenepoel won stage nine of the Giro, and said: "We have a lot of confidence. I think tomorrow I really need to recover well, because I think the last two days weren’t my best days.
“I think we should try to recover well and just enjoy today’s victory."
Despite two stage wins and a spell in the pink jersey, it had not all gone to plan for Evenepoel, with the 23-year-old crashing twice on stage five, and losing time on Saturday's punchy stage eight. How well the precocious Belgian would have performed in the next 12 stages is now useless to consider, as he heads home.
In his place, the Ineos Grenadiers duo of Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart will likely battle with Roglič and João Almeida, among others, for the race. Heading into the second week, the Giro has almost been reset.
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