2019 Giro d'Italia winner Richard Carapaz has described reports that bodies of COVID-19 victims have been left on the streets in Ecuador as 'heartbreaking' and revealed he is ready to help people who have lost their jobs and are struggling to feed their families.
"It's heart breaking to see what is happening in my country and in the whole world. It's very sad," the soft-spoken Carapaz told La Gazzetta dello Sport in an interview published on Wednesday.
"Everyone has seen the terrible images, it hurts to see them. It's difficult to even know what to say. The worst hit area is Guayaquil near the coast. It's about 700 kilometres from where I am but it's a key city for the economy and for tourism."
Carapaz moved from Movistar to Team Ineos for the 2020 season and was in Europe before the British WorldTour team decided to end all activity in early March after the tragic death of directeur sportif Nicolas Portal and the growing threat of the coronavirus. Carapaz returned to Ecuador to be with his family soon afterwards.
Carapaz is a national hero in Ecuador after becoming the first rider from the South American nation to win one of cycling's Grand Tours. He rode outdoors until March 17 but has since opted to stay indoors.
"I'm trying to keep fit by using the home trainer, doing core work and other things. But it's not easy because there's no concrete prospective of when we'll race again. It's difficult even to imagine it and for sure it's not the most important thing at the moment because people's health is the most important of all," Carapaz said.
"We weren't ready to face what has happened, I don’t think any of the countries around the world were ready. I'm not looking to start a polemic, because now the important thing is that we all do our part to stop the virus spreading by respecting the rules.
"Fortunately there are fewer cases where I live. My parents live nearby and we're all okay. I'm thinking of helping provide food for people who have lost their jobs. It's perhaps only a little help but it can make a big difference."
Carapaz should have been lining up to defend his Giro d'Italia title in May, leading Ineos at the corsa rosa. The Giro could yet be held in October but Carapaz has been struck by the sudden changes to everyday life.
"I was looking forward to defending my title and this time last year we were getting ready for the Giro d'Italia. I'd planned to ride the Tour of the Alps to get ready but now we don't even know when we'll be back in the peloton. The world has changed," he said.
"It's not easy but we've got to try to be optimistic and believe that things will gradually return to normal if we all do our bit. I think we can come out of this and so I'm forcing myself to be optimistic."