Words by Peter Cossins | Photo by SWpix.com
Former stars reveal dinosaur-like attitudes to rider welfare following Remco Evenepoel’s decision to quit the Giro after a positive Covid test
As the Giro d’Italia gets back under way today, erstwhile race leader Remco Evenepoel is under fire for leaving the corsa rosa during the first rest day after a positive test for Covid. His departure shows “a lack of respect for the Giro” according to Giuseppe Saronni, whose long-time rival Francesco Moser called it “a hasty decision”.
Both of these former Giro champions were speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the event’s sister newspaper in which race director Mauro Vegni was also critical, bemoaning the “independent” way in which Evenepoel’s Soudal-QuickStep team had reacted to their rider’s Covid diagnosis and suggesting that, “they have committed an error, justified by the fact that they panicked a bit and weren’t sufficiently lucid to resort to a more habitual process.” In short, the Belgian and his team should have waited to see if and how his symptoms developed during the rest day before making the decision to pull him from the race, which, it should be underlined, he undoubtedly left with a good deal of reluctance as it was his primary objective for this season.
Three years on from the spread of the Covid pandemic that the World Health Organisation currently estimates resulted in seven million deaths and has left millions more affected by long Covid and other associated illnesses, our attitudes to the virus are gradually changing. Most have learned to live with it, happy to go mask-less and mix freely while knowing that the risk of infection still remains. Yet, the furore sparked by Evenepoel’s decision to say arrivederci to the Giro suggests that some have shrugged off all concerns, at least when it comes to the search for sporting success.
“You need to have more respect for the pink jersey, for the organisation and for all of the fans who waited for the world champion at the start,” Saronni declared, suggesting that Evenepoel was caught in some kind of dignity vacuum, while actually underlining that it was he himself who was guilty of a lack of respect.
“He’s got Covid, OK, but what’s the viral load?” Saronni added, before continuing down the inevitable path taken by Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen. “In my day, how many times did we race when we were weakened, by various infections, and didn’t we stand our ground in order to earn everyone’s respect?”
Like his former rival, Moser hinted at having particular medical insight as a result of winning some major races back in the last century. “Evenepoel could have waited, why leave like that? Covid isn’t what it was three years ago and from one day to the next you are either positive or negative. Oh, he was in the lead, it was a hasty decision,” he opined.
Vegni seems to be blessed with some of that same expert knowledge, commenting: “Not everyone suffers the same consequences after an illness. They preferred to take him out of the competition for peace of mind. Could they have waited until the rest day the next day? That’s a subject that needs to be dealt with.”
But does it really? These Jurassic period perspectives remind of the attitudes that were until recently expressed about athletes who were affected by concussion. They were encouraged to “man up” and keep playing/competing. Occasionally, we still see vestiges of this approach in cycling when riders who have clearly been affected by an impact are helped back onto their bike and pushed back into action. Thankfully, though, attitudes towards concussion are catching up with the body of science relating to the issue, ensuring the welfare of athletes is better protected. This step change needs to be made with regard to Covid too, and it’s surprising that this hasn’t taken place, especially in the country that was initially the worst affected by the virus.
Soudal-QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere, so often called out for Neanderthal mutterings such as these, outlined the good thinking behind Evenepoel’s decision to leave the Giro. “You never know what’s going to happen in the body. This isn’t a normal nine-to-five job,” he explained pointedly and correctly. There’s no room for bullishness in these situations. Caution is the watchword. Let’s hope we see Remco back in flying form soon, perhaps at the Tour de France, but only if he and his medical advisers are convinced the time is right.