Evenepoel delays COVID-19 vaccine for fear of side effects ahead of Giro d'Italia

ZAKOPANE POLAND AUGUST 08 Remco Evenepoel of Belgium and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Breakaway during the 77th Tour of Poland 2020 Stage 4 a 173km stage from Bukovina Resort to Bukowina Tatrzanska 941m TourdePologne tdp20 on August 08 2020 in Zakopane Poland Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Remco Evenepoel in action at last year's Tour de Pologne (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Remco Evenepoel will turn down the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19 next week, preferring to wait until after the Giro d’Italia for fear that side effects may hamper his preparations for his debut Grand Tour.

According to Deceuninck-QuickStep doctor Philip Jansen, quoted in Het Laatste Nieuws (opens in new tab), Evenepoel already has a significant amount of COVID-19 antibodies, suggesting a previous asymptomatic infection. 

With a view to the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, many national federations are being permitted by their governments to fast-track athletes along the nation’s vaccination queue.

According to Het Laatste Nieuws, all Belgian riders in contention for selection for Tokyo have been told they can soon expect to be called to the vaccination centre in Brussels, possibly from next week. Evenepoel, however, will not be there. 

"I highly recommend it to all our riders, but for Remco it is just bad timing," Jansen said.

"In view of the Olympics, we will certainly have it done, but not a week and a half before the Giro. It's just too close, after everything that has already gone wrong," he added, referring to the complications in Evenepoel's long recovery from last year's pelvis fracture. 

Although several countries have restricted the AstraZeneca vaccine over reports of blood clots, the Belgian riders are understood to be offered the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. As with all vaccines and medication, there is a fractional chance recipients can suffer fatigue, headaches, or even mild disease in the aftermath.

A secondary reason for delaying Evenepoel’s vaccine is the suggestion he already has protection in the form of antibodies generated by prior infection. The 21-year-old has never been diagnosed with COVID-19 or tested positive for the virus but it is possible he contracted it at some point without suffering any illness.

"Remco already has a huge number of antibodies in the body. He already had those last year and they have remained sky high," Jansen said. 

"It is not clear to us exactly when a seroconversion took place. He has never been ill himself. There is also no one in his direct environment who contracted an infection. But of course we see antibodies appear more often in people who experienced the virus asymptomatically."

Evenepoel has not raced since breaking his pelvis at Il Lombardia last August, and will not do so before he arrives in Turin for the start of the Giro on May 8. He suffered complications in his rehabilitation over the winter but has since been moving through the gears with a series of training camps.

He recently returned from an altitude camp in Sierra Nevada, Spain, and will now train in Belgium, as well as doing time trial testing with Specialized and Belgian head coach Sven Vanthourenhout.

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