When young star Remco Evenepoel rolled onto the pink stage in the bright spotlight on the packed Piazza della Rinascita in Pescara, he had slipped on his red mask to be on the safe side.
The road bike world champion is particularly careful before the start of the 106th Giro d'Italia, after all four hard months of preparation with many hardships should not have been in vain. Because just in time for the first big tour of the year, the Corona worries are back in cycling.
"A Message to All"
Evenepoel and Co. were startled by several cases. "The loss of several drivers in the peloton must be a message to everyone that we have to be careful that the virus is still there. That applies to drivers, sports directors and journalists. Wear a mask," warned the exceptional Belgian driver. Many colleagues saw it similar to Evenepoel at the atmospheric team presentation on Thursday evening and wore mouth and nose protection again.
The virus caused some upheaval, especially in the Jumbo Visma team of Evenepoel's big rival Primoz Roglic (Slovenia). Three helpers had to be replaced after an infection for the Tour of Italy starting on Saturday. There are no longer any corona restrictions or mandatory tests this season, but once the virus is in the team there is a risk of illness and absenteeism. "If you're sick at this level, you have a problem," said Roglic, referring to the difficult tour, in which 3,489.2 kilometers and more than 50,000 meters of altitude difference have to be mastered from Fossacesia Marina to the finish in Rome.
Kämna and Bora team also warned
"None of us are relaxed," said German hopeful Lennard Kämna of the dpa with a view to the Corona issue. His Bora-hansgrohe racing team had all team members tested before the Giro, as sports director Jens Zemke emphasized: "The virus is obviously highly contagious." Team boss Ralph Denk doesn't believe that too much can be done preventively. "Jumbo is already a team where a lot of value is placed on measures. Nevertheless, three racers were hit," said Denk in a media round and added: "Turn on your brain and hope that you're lucky, that you have a stable immune system has."
This is how Corona could influence the fight for the Maglia Rosa. The big duel between Evenepoel and Roglic promises enough excitement. The 23-year-old from Belgium, who is so often compared to his legendary compatriot Eddy Merckx, wants to win his second major tour after last year's Vuelta victory and is already thinking ahead: "We have a plan. We are here with the same team as in Spain to take the next step, to move up another level in terms of the Tour. It's the logical choice." Means: In 2024 there should be a big duel between the talents of the century Evenepoel and Tadej Pogacar on France's country roads.
Duel Evenepoel vs. Roglic?
But before that happens, Evenepoel must first defeat Roglic. That's going to be hard enough. The Slovenian was still ahead of the Belgian in the Tour of Catalonia, also because of his greater explosiveness in the mountains. Evenepoel, who underlined his strong form a good two weeks ago with the superior victory in the classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège, is therefore also relying on the 73 km time trial. At the start on Saturday, 19.6 kilometers from Fossacesia Marina to Ortona await in the fight against the clock.
Then the German time trial champion Kämna wants to set a first exclamation mark. It should be in the top ten, just like in the overall ranking. This year, the 26-year-old made the transition from stage hunter to classification driver. With team boss Ralph Denk, Kämna is pursuing the plan of whether there will be a podium at a Grand Tour in the future. Kämna wants to show it at the Giro: "I'm probably at a level that I've never had before," he said, but also restricted: "I don't know whether I can keep up with Remco or Primoz. They are extraordinary drivers. "