Geraint Thomas has no qualms about donning the pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday, despite inheriting it after race leader Remco Evenepoel’s withdrawal due to Covid.
Evenepoel’s routine test on Sunday night came back positive, only a few hours after the Belgian world champion pipped Thomas by a single second in the stage nine time trial to reclaim top spot in the general classification.
There have been previous instances of riders declining to wear leader’s jerseys, most notably when Chris Froome did so for one stage of the 2015 Tour de France following the injury-enforced withdrawal of Tony Martin.
While Thomas sympathised with the circumstances of Evenepoel’s exit, the Welshman intends to be in pink for the 196-kilometre stage from Scandiano to Viareggio following Monday’s rest day.
“Leading the race is a massive honour, but at the same time it’s not really the way you want to take the jersey,” he said. “That’s the way it is. I’ll definitely wear it with pride.
“It’s the first time I’ve worn the pink jersey. It’s not the best way of taking it, but I think for the race it’s still a good thing to keep it in the race. I just wish Remco well and hope he’s back soon.”
Evenepoel had established a 45-second advantage over the rest of the field and Thomas initially thought his rival was joking when contacted by the Soudal Quick-Step rider before the official announcement.
Primoz Roglic, who is Thomas’ immediate challenger just two seconds adrift after the first week, last week told the Ineos Grenadiers rider he had tested positive for Covid before the Slovenian backtracked and revealed he was joking.
Evenepoel was the sixth rider to leave the race with Covid, including Thomas’ team-mate Filippo Ganna. Thomas revealed he and the rest of the team are now taking precautions in an effort to minimise the risk of catching the virus.
“We just need to try to be a lot more aware of it and go back to what we used to do with Covid in 2020 or 2021, when we were in our own little bubble and we were wearing masks in public spaces,” he said.
“As a team we’re going to go back to that strategy. If everybody in the race does the same thing then it will stop other riders going home.”
Thomas will turn 37 later this month, on the day the race reaches stage 18 of 21, and was in a relaxed mood despite a chequered history at the Giro.
His best result in four attempts is 80th place, but Thomas, who finished third in last year’s Tour de France, insisted he was through trying to prove himself.
“It would be amazing (to win),” he added. “After 2020 I kind of thought that would be it for my chances of winning the Giro (he withdrew from that race after fracturing his pelvis on stage three).
“I don’t really feel too much pressure or expectation. I’d just love to take the opportunity.
“A lot of people seem to just write me off or whatever, but I feel like I just proved all that wrong last year and this is just a bonus round now.
“When you get towards the end of your career, you realise how lucky we are just to be able to race our bikes for a living. It’s not going to last forever and I want to make the most of it.”