After eight months out of the sport due to a fractured pelvis sustained in a horror crash at last year's Il Lombardia, Remco Evenepoel returned to competition with a more than respectable seventh place in the opening time trial of the Giro d'Italia.
The Belgian Deceuninck-QuickStep leader finished the 8.6km course around Turin 19 seconds slower than stage winner Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), but after such a long time out of the sport and a complicated recovery, the 21-year-old was more than happy to finally make his Grand Tour debut.
"It's a nice feeling but at the end, in the finish line, I felt a lot of pain in the legs but that was also quite nice to feel again. In the end, I'm just very proud and happy with my top ten spot already," Evenepoel told reporters at the finish.
"A short time trial is not something that I'm really good at. So, I'm just happy. We did a perfect start with the team. It's a relief of course but we knew that Filippo and the heavier guys are better in short time trials.
"They're Italians as well so they always fly in the short time trials like this, but we did an amazing job with fourth, fifth and seventh. It's a perfect start for us."
Although Deceuninck-QuickStep missed out on the stage win, the Belgian squad will have ended the day more than content with their overall performance. Last year's Giro d'Italia revelation João Almeida finished fourth on the stage and put time into every one of his potential GC rivals. Having finished fourth overall last year, the rider from Portugal is once more set for another strong showing in the Italian Grand Tour.
"It's good to get a good result again," Almeida said. "I felt good, which is as important and I'm super happy that there's a good time gap between me and the other GC guys, let's keep it that way. It's always right to start on the right foot as we say, and if we can keep the consistency, then I think we can do a good Giro again."
"Everything is possible, like last year," he said when asked about the possibility of taking the maglia rosa again early in the race, as he did last year.
"We still have to consider things, it can go in so many different ways and we can't control the other guys and the other teams, but I think it's looking good. We have a really strong team to do a good job."
Rémi Cavagna finished fifth on the stage but the biggest smile of course came from Evenepoel after his difficult period.
"It meant quite a lot," the Belgian said. "I was on the start house with a lot of emotion, even some tears in my eyes because it was a special day, to finally start again with this race.
"I can only be proud of my performance because it was a short time trial, which isn't really my specialty. So, I'm very happy. It's very nice to be back with seventh place, I'm very happy. We are quite good friends; we understand each other very well.
On Ganna's performance, Evenepoel was gracious in his praise.
"He's the world champion, it's incredible to see him win a race like this as world champion. He's a superhero in Italy, and it's nice to race against someone like this."
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