Remco Evenepoel's Giro d'Italia Covid withdrawal reshapes entire race

Ineos Grenadiers are now in the ascendancy, but Primož Roglič is looking good

Remco Evenepoel at the 2023 Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Remco came, Remco saw, Remco got Covid. 

Remco Evenepoel testing positive for Covid and going home from the Giro d'Italia was the news that no one - Soudal Quick-Step, the Giro's organisers, fans, and maybe even his rivals - wanted. The news, which broke late Sunday night, was a shock, as it came hours after the young Belgian had won his second stage of the race and climbed back into the pink jersey.

All in all, then, the world champion has had two unhappy visits to the Giro. The first, in 2021, where the then 21-year-old was rudely introduced to the rigours of Grand Tour racing, pulling out ahead of stage 18. The second was looking more promising, but still ends with disappointment. 

For all the work that Evenepoel has put into the tilt at pink, the remodelling of Quick-Step as a general classification team, the effort of racing nine stages to end in nothing due to illness must be crushing for the young man and his team. The days at altitude on Tenerife now wasted, the dreams crumbled to dust. 

As far as the Giro d'Italia goes, the race has now been blown open. No longer is there a 23-year-old world champion at the top of the rankings, but instead Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) who turns 37 next week. The race had been billed as a battle between Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Evenepoel, but now appears to be a slugfest between Roglič, Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart and the rest.

This is a shame for the race organisers, RCS, and the fans, for whom a clash between Evenepoel and Roglič was mouthwatering, but there will be an intriguing tactical showdown over the next 12 stages.

Tao Geoghegan Hart, Primož Roglič and Geraint Thomas at the 2023 Giro d'Italia

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ineos Grenadiers will now have two riders in the top three on general classification, with Thomas leading the way, two seconds in front of Roglič and five seconds in front of Geoghegan Hart. All three are Grand Tour winners, and look in good form - Thomas the 2018 Tour de France champion, Geoghegan Hart the 2020 Giro winner, and Roglič the three-time Vuelta a España winner - but will it be one of them on top?

Thomas and Geoghegan Hart are bolstered by the fact that they are not the only Ineos riders looking good on GC; Pavel Sivakov sits in 10th, 2-15 down on Thomas, with Thymen Arensman and Laurens de Plus at 13th and 14th, respectively, a handful of seconds further back.

The British team has the numbers, and has looked solid on the front of the peloton through the first week, so perhaps there will be a return to the Sky train days, with Roglič trying to upset this. The likes of Sivakov or Arensman could be sent up the road to force Roglič and co to chase, opening the door for a Thomas or Geoghegan Hart attack.

Roglič still has a full team to support him, although this is not his A-team, that was taken from him through a mixture of illness and injury before the Giro began, but Roglič is still the outstanding rider in the race. Ineos, meanwhile, has been deprived of its star rouleur Filippo Ganna.

There is still a lot of riding to come, with five mountainous days and a brutal mountain time trial on the menu; this is a back-loaded Giro, as is customary. There will come a point, too, where Ineos has to decide whether to back Thomas or Geoghegan Hart; how far into the race will this come?

There are also other pretenders to the throne to consider, especially in Evenepoel's absence. João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), knows what it is like to wear the pink jersey and is just 22 seconds behind Thomas, with Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) 40 seconds further back. These are far from unbridgeable gaps. Both have teammates close on GC too to act as foils, an advantage Roglič does not have. It might be the Slovenian against the world.

Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) should not be discounted either, especially as the Italian has finished on the podium at the Corsa Rosa before. He is a minute and a half behind Thomas at present.

The race is still alive, and will surely still be exciting, and the winner will very much deserve it. It is just hard to look past the fact that this will be the race where Evenepoel got taken out by forces beyond his control. Covid might not have had its final impact on this race, too.

Evenepoel vs Pogačar vs Vingegaard at the Tour de France?

Remco Evenepoel at the 2023 Giro d'Italia

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Evenepoel's withdrawal from the Giro now raises the tantalising possibility that the world champion could now appear at the Tour de France in a month and a half's time. It seems unlikely, with Quick-Step's schedules set and there being no rush to put their star rider under the world's biggest microscope, but it is not out of the question.

Should the young Belgian not suffer too much with Covid, perhaps he could be chucked into the Tour as a wildcard, to see how well he would do. It would obviously not be without pressure, this would be one of the best riders in the world on the world's biggest stage, but if it didn't go to plan, it could be explained away with the fact he recently had Covid. If it went stunningly well, then it would be a dream for Quick-Step.

It is not as simple as this, but the prospect of Jonas Vingegaard battling it out with Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel with yellow is certainly an exciting one. If not this year, then 2024, please.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.