Evenepoel wins Giro time trial, withdraws with COVID-19
Race leader Remco Evenepoel's stunning withdrawal from the Giro d'Italia because of a COVID-19 positive test has thrown the battle for the overall title wide open.
The pre-event favourite and reigning world champion regained the lead on Sunday when he won the stage-nine individual time trial.
But only hours later, his Soudal-Quick Step team announced the 23-year-old had tested positive and was out of the race.
His absence completely upends the tactics of the remaining title contenders, because the general classification narrative so far had been all about how they were faring compared to Evenepoel.
"I am really sorry to be leaving the race," Evenepoel said in the statement.
"As part of the team's protocol, I took a routine test, which unfortunately was positive."
The rest of the team and staff were tested and were all negative."
Evenepoel's shock departure completed a tumultuous Giro for the Belgian.
He dominated the stage-one time trial to take the race lead, then lost it and was injured when he crashed twice in wet conditions during stage five.
Evenepoel had also lost the race lead in stage four to Norwegian Andreas Leknessund, but the Belgian proved that was only temporary when he beat British star Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) in Sunday's time trial by just one second.
Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France champion, now leads the Giro by 45 seconds ahead of Slovenia's two-time Vuelta a Espana winner Primo Roglic.
Thomas' British teammate Tao Geoghagen Hart, who won the 2020 Giro, is three seconds behind Roglic at third overall.
Australian Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) is 10th on general classification at three minutes nine seconds.
At 35km, Sunday's time trial stage was the longest of the three races against the clock in this year's Giro.
The route was mainly flat, stretching from Savignano Sul Rubicone to Cesena near the Adriatic coast.
"I don't think I paced it very well," Evenepoel said of his second stage win in the 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."
Geoghegan Hart was third in the time trial, two seconds slower than Evenepoel. Just eight seconds separated the top five finishers in a strong performance from the general classification contenders.
The Giro will have Monday's first race day to fully absorb the ramifications of Evenepoel's withdrawal.
Tuesday's 10th stage features two categorised climbs in the rolling 196km route through the Tuscan Apennines from Scandiano to Viareggio on the Mediterranean coast.
The race ends in Rome on May 28.