It was a typical Geraint Thomas quip. A deadpan comment about a rival’s performance, which raised eyebrows at the time but nothing more.
“Not bad for a guy with Covid – he told me yesterday he had Covid…” the Welshman remarked to journalist Daniel Friebe following rival Primoz Roglic’s dramatic attack during Saturday’s stage eight, which helped both Thomas and his Ineos Grenadiers team-mate Tao Geoghegan Hart gain time on pre-race favourite Remco Evenepoel.
Those words have taken on new significance in the wake of Evenepoel’s sad withdrawal from the Giro on Sunday night after testing positive for Covid.
“At first I thought he [Evenepoel] might be having a joke,” Thomas said. “Especially after the whole Roglic stuff.
“Then obviously the announcement came. It’s a huge disappointment for the race, and it might sound weird, but also for myself. I was looking forward to a real good GC battle with not just Remco and Roglic but everyone else as well.”
Did Roglic really have Covid? Was he a Giro superspreader? Was he just making mischief when he made the remark to Thomas? Who knows.
Rumours that Roglic was riding with Covid have been swirling since the start of the race, And it would hardly be a surprise if he did have it, or still had it, given three of his Jumbo-Visma team-mates Tobias Foss, Robert Gesink and Jos van Emden – with whom he would undoubtedly have been in close personal contact – were all ruled out after positive tests in the build-up to the race.
Jumbo-Visma had denied these rumours, describing them as “bulls—” and “total nonsense”. But it is not beyond the realms of possibility. The UCI’s updated Covid protocols for this season do not expressly forbid riders from continuing to ride in grand tours if they test positive.
If a rider is asymptomatic or has a low viral load, they may be permitted to race. It depends on various factors – local health rules, the pandemic severity of the country in which the race is taking place, and so on.
The protocols state: “In the event of a Covid-19 case within a team (riders or team members), confirmed by a Covid test, the decision to isolate and withdraw from the race will be taken in a collegial manner by the team doctor concerned, the event doctor and the UCI medical director, based on clinical elements available and the results of the Covid test. The conclusions of the medical expertise will be transmitted to the UCI, the president of the commissaire panel and the organisers.”
Regardless of whether Roglic had the virus or not, one thing is clear: Evenepoel’s departure is a great shame for the race. The Belgian is one of cycling’s biggest stars and the prospect of the reigning world champion trying to defend his lead from Thomas, Roglic and Geoghegan Hart, all of whom were lying within a minute of him following Sunday’s time trial, was mouthwatering.
No one wants to inherit the race lead in these circumstances. And as Geoghegan Hart can attest following his Giro win in 2020, there will likely be those who do not give the eventual winner the credit he deserves in Rome next weekend.
But that cannot be helped. Evenepoel was clearly suffering after his time trial win on Sunday (which only makes the victory more impressive). He and his Soudal Quick-Step team would not have taken this decision lightly.
The hope now is that we don’t see a mass exodus. Six riders have already left the race with Covid, including big stars such as Evenepoel, Filippo Ganna and Rigoberto Uran. That is quite enough.
The positives are that we still have the prospect of a great battle over the coming fortnight, with Thomas (who is chasing his second grand tour victory following his Tour de France win in 2018), Roglic (chasing his first Giro win and his fourth grand tour victory), Geoghegan Hart (who of course won the Giro in 2020) and Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) all within 20-odd seconds of each other.
The race may be more controlled, with Ineos Grenadiers looking to lock things down and with the riders to do so. But that is purely speculative. The Giro has a habit of defying predictions. And there may be other upsides to Evenepoel withdrawing from this race – Tadej Pogacar vs Jonas Vingegaard vs Remco Evenepoel at the Tour de France anyone?
For now, Giro organisers will just hope things settle down and we get the best race possible over the next two weeks. British fans certainly have much to be excited about.
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