Geraint Thomas assumed the race lead at the Giro d’Italia as Remco Evenepoel was forced to withdraw from the competition after testing positive for Covid-19 hours after reclaiming the pink jersey.
Evenepoel dramatically edged out Thomas by a single second in the stage nine time trial on Sunday, but the 23-year-old world champion’s hopes were then dashed by a routine Covid test.
“I am really sorry to be leaving the race,” the Soudal Quick-Step rider told his team’s website.
“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.”
Rigoberto Uran of the EF Education-EasyPost team has also withdrawn due to a positive Covid test.
Thomas looked to have done enough to win the time trial when he beat fellow Briton and Ineos Grenadiers team-mate Tao Geoghegan Hart by one second in the 35-kilometre race from Savignano sul Rubicone to Cesena on Sunday afternoon.
But Evenepoel flew out of the traps and, despite appreciably slowing after the first time check, the Belgian had enough in the tank to pip Thomas by crossing the line in 41 minutes and 24 seconds.
Victory had put Evenepoel, who had led the general classification for the first three stages, 45 seconds ahead of Thomas.
“I don’t think I paced it very well,” Evenepoel said after the race race. “I started too fast and my second part wasn’t that great.
“I found some better legs in the technical part because I could recover a bit. I wasn’t feeling too well in the second part with the head wind. It’s another stage win, but it wasn’t my best time trial.”
Thomas reflected ruefully on his fourth runner-up finish in the event’s time trial, having come second twice in 2012 and once in 2017.
“It’s nice to be getting better, but to be so close to the win kind of hurts,” he said.
“A few too many seconds for my liking, but it’s good to be in it anyway. Myself and Teo right up there looks good for the next part of the race.”
Team Jumbo–Visma rider Primoz Roglic sits behind Thomas in the general classification, with Geoghegan Hart in third.