If the post-victory smiles in the Evenepoel camp seemed a bit wan following his unexpectedly narrow victory in the Giro d’Italia’s stage 9 time trial, they turned completely upside down a few hours later when it was announced that the Soudal-Quick Step superstar had contracted Covid and would retire from the Giro immediately. Evenepoel may have enjoyed the satisfaction of making good on his Mother’s Day promise to his mom to win the stage, and probably was happy to see his wife and parents by the roadside ready for a break in the action together. So the blessing in disguise is in having his closest companions there as the disappointment set in and took away his Giro d’Italia.
Sucks, for sure. But that’s cycling. Tell it to Giulio Ciccone.
But with Evenepoel being who he is, and the Giro being his main goal for his rainbow-clad 2023 season, what are we to do with this information? Lots of things. Here are a few thoughts.
Did This Explain His Meh TT?
I’m going with probably not. He came out too hot and it cost him. An old storyline in the time trialling world. Also he had a not great week going. More on that in a moment. But if he has Covid, that doesn’t mean he has symptoms. Might have hurt but the simpler explanations are right before our eyes.
Is This Messing Up the Giro?
I’m going no! Continuing on his TT form... the bruises from his Stage 5 crashes could also be an explanation for what happened in Cesena today. So it’s worth wondering, are we sure he was set up to win the Giro? I’m not. Not at all.
The good news is that Evenepoel’s inability to stay at his best probably means that he wasn’t going to be the story, at least not compared to the other contenders, several of whom have set themselves up perfectly and are primed to push on. Leading the charge is (obviously) Primož Roglič, who maybe we need to stop and remember was one day away from a Tour de France win (I know) and has been held back from greater glory by crashes, begging the question, how great is he when healthy? The answer has often been, and will likely be again, pretty great. Like, proven, aggressive, smart and all the things you want in a rider great. If you want to chalk up his slim deficit today to Evenepoel’s struggles, fine, but he also only lost 16 seconds to Geraint Thomas. This was no fluke.
Thomas once again seems to have conjured up his best form, just when you thought it was safe to bet against him. He also enjoys the backing (ish?) of teammate and former Giro winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Pavel Sivakov sits only 3’ back on GC (2.13 to Rogla), meaning the other contenders won’t want to see him get completely off the leash. Roglič is the strongest contender, but the three-headed hydra of INEOS could upend things quite easily. João Almeida of UAE is bunched right in with the rest, and having been 4th in the Giro and 5th in the Vuelta, just entering his prime, Almeida is a serious threat. Alexander Vlasov is another 48” back but shouldn’t be forgotten.
Bottom line, maybe Evenepoel could have won, but I’m not terribly sure, and the action will probably be better without him. His presence seems to take over the narratives, and the race itself at times, so without him we will have more of the excitement, probably, with no less of the top-end quality.
Now What Does He Do?
Just curious... does Remco take the simplest path and parlay his truncated Giro into a bang-up Vuelta assault? Worlds in Edinburgh would be an objective too, albeit pitting him against the Classics Superstars, so maybe it’s just the Vuelta and that’s it? Is that a good year?
The alternative is... dare we say it... a DeTour to France?
I think probably no, it is too much of a circus, and Quick Step’s Tour team has already been coalescing around a plan aimed at making Fabio Jakobsen the top sprinter in July. There are probably a million logistical reasons not to turn things upside down less than two months before the Grand Départ. But... what else is he to do this year? Could you send Evenepoel to the Tour without a ton of climber support, and just tell him to win stages? Would the pressure of expectations magically lift off his shoulders, given the circumstances? Maybe, at least in a race where everyone would rightfully assume he would have no answer for Vigegaard and Pogacar. I think they don’t do it, maybe don’t even give it serious thought. But in the absence of a Giro run, I’m not sure what else they can even do this year with the World Champion.
OK, what else do we need to think about with Remco’s Retreat?