Ironically, this article is being typed on May 5th, which is Liberation Day in the Netherlands. March 23, 2022, just over a year ago, felt like a Liberation Day of sorts for certain people. It was the day that the last COVID-19 measures were lifted, after the virus had held the world hostage for over two years. Goodbye, COVID-19 passes, masks and tests - hello, parties. Currently, it seems as though the virus is nothing more than a vague dream, but in the cycling peloton, a year later - this dream is turning into a proper nightmare.
Just before the Giro d'Italia, one of the biggest races of the year, crashes or injuries are not the biggest concern for cyclists who want to compete. Getting infected with COVID is what every ambitious rider is worried about. It started the day after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with Guilio Ciccone. The Italian was in good shape and wanted to go for stage wins in his home country, but he can't participate due to a COVID-19 infection. He and his team, Trek-Segafredo, are extremely disappointed.
The general classification was not his main goal, but... "If he wants to finish in the top ten, he can do so by chasing stage wins. But he's a rider who can finish in the top ten and - in a very good Giro - even top five, given the shape he was in. That won't be the case now, and that's a disappointment," said team director Steven de Jongh. Ciccone himself said: "I have strong feelings of frustration and helplessness. I have difficulty finding the right words to describe my sadness. Giving up the Giro breaks my heart."
After Ciccone's news, the other riders trembled and several teams were affected. Henri Vandenabeele (Team DSM) and Gino Mader (Bahrein-Victorious) are also not participating due to COVID-19 infections. However, no team has been hit as hard as Jumbo-Visma. Robert Gesink and Tobias Foss have already dropped out. Jos van Emden was called up as a replacement, but he has also since contracted the virus. Sam Oomen is his replacement, which is remarkable since he missed Liège-Bastogne-Liège two weeks ago due to the same virus. He has recovered in time.
The situation is reminiscent of the 2021 Tour de France. Six riders had to drop out before the race even started due to COVID-19 infections, while seventeen riders had to drop out during the race, including several top ten riders or intended stage winners. With just one day to go before the Giro starts, no one will likely drop out, but every team director will be praying that the virus doesn't strike once the tour has started. This is why cycling remains a sport of luck. Crashes, injuries, breakdowns and viruses can all throw a spanner in the works. However, the 2023 Giro will undoubtedly provide plenty of excitement - with or without COVID-19.
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