Geraint Thomas took over the race lead at the Giro d’Italia when Remco Evenepoel was forced to withdraw from the competition after testing positive for Covid-19 hours after reclaiming the pink jersey.
Evenepoel dramatically edged Thomas by just a second in the stage nine time trial on Sunday, but the 23-year-old world champion’s hopes were dashed by a routine covid test.
“I am very sorry to have to withdraw from 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 came out positive. My experience here has been really special and I was really looking forward to racing in the next two weeks.
“I cannot thank the staff and riders enough who sacrificed so much in preparation for the Giro. I will be cheering you on for the next two weeks.”
Rigoberto Uran from the EF Education-EasyPost team has also withdrawn due to a positive Covid test.
Thomas seemed to have done enough to win the time trial when he beat fellow Briton and Ineos Grenadiers teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart by a second in the 35km race from Savignano sul Rubicone to Cesena on Sunday afternoon.
But Evenepoel flew out of the traps, and despite noticeably slowing down after the first time control, the Belgian had enough left in the tank to pass Thomas across the line in 41 minutes and 24 seconds.
The win had put Evenepoel, who had led the general classification for the first three stages, 45 seconds ahead of Thomas.
“I think I haven’t handled it very well,” Evenepoel said after the race. “I started too fast and my second part was not so good.
“I found better legs in the technical part because I was able to recover a bit. I wasn’t feeling too good in the second part with the headwind. It’s another stage win, but it wasn’t my best time trial.”
Thomas reflected sadly on his fourth second-place finish in the event’s time trial, having placed second twice in 2012 and once in 2017.
“It’s good to be improving, but being so close to victory hurts a bit,” he said.
“Too many seconds for my liking, but it’s good to be there anyway. Me and Teo up there looks good for the next part of the race.”
Team Jumbo-Visma rider Primoz Roglic sits behind Thomas in the overall standings, with Geoghegan Hart in third.