After Remco Evenepoel’s COVID exit, what happens next at the Giro d’Italia?
Evenepoel's COVID departure scrambles everything: Who will step up to fill the void?
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The Giro d’Italia and the race for the pink jersey was thrown upside down overnight with the unfortunate exit of Remco Evenepoel with a COVID-19 infection.
The Belgian barnstormer looked so ragged at the finish line Sunday, however, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone when the team broke the news a few hours later that he was diagnosed with coronavirus.
And just like that, the 2023 Giro will have a very different ending.
No one will ever know if Evenepoel could have hung on to win the Giro. Was he already showing signs of fading when he couldn’t follow the accelerations Saturday from Primož Roglič and Ineos Grenadiers? Or was that the first tell-tale signs of COVID?
Those questions are all moot now.
What looked like a two-horse race between Evenepoel and Roglič is now wildly different. And the Giro could deliver an even more surprising and interesting outcome.
- Evenepoel is out of the Giro with COVID-19
- Stage 9: Evenepoel denies Thomas by 1 second
- Commentary: The Giro’s slow boil is about to heat up
Those are the vagaries of grand tour racing. Anything can take out a rider, from a stray dog on the course, to a misread corner, to illness.
So what’s happens next?
Evenepoel returned home by team car Monday, and will leave behind a peloton grappling with his sudden departure.
Riders and sport directors huddled across the peloton on Monday’s rest day to discuss the new opportunities, tactical scenarios, and possible outcomes.
A new Giro starts Tuesday, and it’s almost starting over from zero.
Instead of having no one within 40 seconds of the pink jersey, now there are three riders divided by five seconds at the top of the new-look leaderboard.
Geraint Thomas is now the pink jersey
With Evenepoel out, Geraint Thomas finds himself as the virtual and real pink jersey.
After the bitter disappointment of losing Sunday’s time trial stage by a fraction of a second, the 2018 Tour de France winner is catapulted into the top spot of the new pecking order.
Speaking to media during a rest call Monday, Thomas said it’s both a shock and an honor following the head-spinning news cycle.
“Remco sent me a message and I thought he was joking. It was a real shock,” Thomas said Monday. “It’s an honor to be a leader, even if it’s not the way you want it to be. But that’s how it goes. I will proudly defend the maglia rosa.”
When the race resumes Tuesday, instead of chasing Evenepoel in the GC, Thomas will instead find himself nursing a very slender lead.
The Remco-less ‘virtual’ GC looks like this:
- Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers)
- Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) at 0:03
- Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) at 0:05
- João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) at 0:22
- Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) at 1:03
Instead of attacking, Thomas will be defending.
Ineos Grenadiers officials confirmed Thomas will race in pink at the start of Tuesday’s stage.
Hot on his heels are Roglič, João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) and perhaps his own teammate with Tao Geoghegan Hart. A few more are bubbling up, including Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) and Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates), among others.
Evenepoel’s vacuum should be quickly filled. Ineos Grenadiers has the strongest team in the bunch, so the UK super-team will proudly step up to control the race.
It was all over too soon 🥲
Remco Evenepoel can walk away from the Giro d’Italia proud of his performance 💪🏼
📸 Cor Vos
🇮🇹 #Giro pic.twitter.com/RUaeKv2W6c
— Velon CC (@VelonCC) May 15, 2023
With Thomas, Roglič, and Geoghegan Hart in a virtual tie, others further down the GC will find new hope with the unexpected twist of faith.
A rider like Vlasov, who instead of being nearly two minutes out of pink, might see his overall ambitions revived. Instead of trying to target the podium, a run for pink will be back in the cards.
Almeida is particularly is poised to play a bigger role if he can hold steady through another two weeks.
“With or without Remco, my plans don’t change that much,” he said Monday. “Soudal Quick-Step had a strong team, and they had the race under control. We’ll see who steps up to fill that role.”
Evenepoel’s exit will take some of the air out of the GC — and should see the heavy Belgian media presence evaporate overnight — but it could deliver an even more wide open and entertaining final half of the race.
The race is once again wide open.
Roglič looks best-positioned to move up, but it’s still a long way until Friday’s next major climbing stage.
Of course, every stage and every second counts. Look at Geoghegan Hart. He lost 19 seconds in a late-stage split in stage 2.
Had he not lost that time there, he would be starting Tuesday in the pink jersey, not Thomas.
GC exit of race leader in grand tours is rare
Evenepoel is not the first grand tour race leader to leave the race in the leader’s jersey, but it doesn’t happen very often.
It’s more common for a rider who once wore a leader’s jersey to perhaps abandon the race later on, but it’s fairly rare to see someone in the pink or yellow jerseys to leave the Giro or the Tour de France while in the full splendor of the race lead.
In fact, in all of Giro history, Evenepoel is only the fifth rider to exit the corsa rosa while in the maglia rosa.
Marco Pantani did in 1999 when he was escorted away by police, and Eddy Merckx as well in 1969. Pasquale Fornara left the 1956 edition, and Costnte Girardengo exited in 1926.
ProCyclingStats produced this interesting Tweet highlighting the occasions when race leader’s have left a grand tour. The last time it happened was in 2015 when Tony Martin crashed out of the Tour while in the maillot jaune.
Last dropout of the GC leader in a grand tour. #Giro #TDF #LaVuelta
More in pur PCS LIVE STATS #WhereElse Preview of stage 10 @giroditalia https://t.co/FSODRXG6AH pic.twitter.com/RDzgCaik0K
— ProCyclingStats.com (@ProCyclingStats) May 15, 2023
It’s not just about pink
The Giro is more than the pink jersey. Here are the other classifications after nine stages of racing:
Maglia ciclamino, leader of the points classification: Jonathan Milan (Bahrain.Victorious) is keeping hold of the jersey since he won it in stage 2. He leads Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) by 13 points.
Maglia azzurra, leader of the GP della Montagna: Davide Bais (Eolo-Kometa Cycling Team) moved into the lead with stage-winning exploits Friday at Gran Sasso. He leads Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) by 36 points.
Maglia bianca, best young rider: Evenepoel also led this category, and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) will take over Tuesday.