Tested positive for Covid on Sunday evening, Remco Evenepoel left the Tour of Italy on the eve of the first day of rest, leaving the pink jersey to Geraint Thomas on Tuesday. Big names in Italian cycling have since struggled to understand this abandonment, which raises many questions.
This Tuesday morning, it will not be necessary to look for Remco Evenepoel in Scandiano, place of the start of the tenth stage of the Giro. Sunday evening, a few hours after a victory in the time trial of the ninth stage, the Soudal Quick-Step announced the abandonment of its rider, who had taken over the leader’s pink jersey. Two minutes after his team’s press release, the world champion was already speaking to say goodbye. Since then, many questions have arisen. In Italy, this departure arouses astonishment.
“We need more respect for the pink jersey,” says Giuseppe Saronni
Monday morning, a little after 9 a.m., after greeting his teammates and staff members, Remco Evenepoel left his hotel to return home. “It’s an elegant way of saying that it’s a lack of respect for the Giro”, commented the Italian Giuseppe Saronni, winner of the event in 1979 and 1983, with the Gazzetta dello Sport. Before adding: “You need more respect for the pink jersey, for the organization and for all the supporters who waited for the world champion at the start. Everyone gave him credit, they followed him with a lot attention. It was not good to leave like that.”
In fact, the International Cycling Union (UCI) does not impose a systematic abandonment for runners positive for Covid. In its protocol, the body offers the decision to leave or not the athlete concerned in the race after a collegial decision between the doctor of the team, the organizer and the UCI. Thus, the Norwegian Sven Erik Bystrom received the green light to start this Tuesday, despite a positive test. “If each runner has to give up after a positive test, there will be hardly anyone left in Rome (the final finish, editor’s note)”, launched the Norwegian, asymptomatic.
Patron of the Tour of Italy, Mauro Vegni indicated for his part that the Soudal Quick-Step acted in an “independent” manner. “Not everyone suffers the same consequences after an illness. They preferred to withdraw him from competition to have more peace of mind. Could they have waited for the rest day, the next day? That’s a subject to be discussed , reacted Vegni to the Italian daily. I confirm that there was no prior communication with the organization. In this, they made a mistake, justified by the fact that they panicked a little and did not were no longer lucid enough to resort to a more usual procedure.”
Lefevere does not want to take “any risk” with Evenepoel
For Giuseppe Saronni, Remco Evenepoel “should have explained himself” and his departure “creates an aura of mystery which was not necessary”, while questioning himself: “He has the Covid, okay, but what is the charge? viral? ” A professional between 1977 and 1990, the man who won 24 stages in the Giro deeply regrets this retirement: “In my time, how many times have we run weakened, with various infections, and have we held on to gain everyone’s respect? If he was two days from the end, he would have held on.”
Manager of the Soudal Quick-Step training, Patrick Lefevere indicated that he did not want to take “any risk” with his foal, whom he promised to protect “like a son” to his parents when he signed his contract at the end of 2018. “You never know what’s going on in the body. It’s not normal work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” defended the emblematic leader of the Belgian team.
Doctor of the Soudal Quick-Step, Yvan van Mol advances an even clearer explanation: “We do not know what the consequences of the Covid are on their cardiac system, he justified to the Team. We have not not yet enough hindsight to be certain that it will not have any effects on their health. It’s just a matter of precaution.”
“A hasty decision” for Francesco Moser
Winner of the Giro in 1984 and another big name in Italian cycling, Francesco Moser does not understand this decision either. “Evenepoel could wait, why leave like that? The Covid is no longer what it was three years ago and from one day to the next, we are either positive or negative. Oh, he was in the lead , it was a hasty decision, estimated the former world champion. He had to evaluate the signs too: he was slow in the time trial, that’s the proof. He retired before the battle, but it had not yet begun.”
Despite these misunderstandings, Geraint Thomas, second overall on Sunday evening, will wear the pink jersey this Tuesday and will have to defend it in the absence of Evenepoel. Sunday evening, the world champion had taken care to warn the Briton before the press release. “He wanted to let me know he had to leave the race and wished me good luck… I thought he was playing a joke on me, as there had been recently with Primoz Roglic (who had made Thomas believe that he had the Covid, Editor’s note) in recent days. But when I realized that it was the truth, I was shocked, reacted one of the two leaders of Ineos Grenadiers. And very disappointed … “
One thing is sure; the shock of Remco Evenepoel’s retirement will have consequences for the race. Mauro Vegni has warned that a health protocol will return for the last two weeks. Since the start, six riders have already given up due to the Covid.