L’AQUILA, Italy (VN) — A team mate of the current pink jersey and a key helper for one of the top aspirants both abandoned the Giro d’Italia on Friday.

Colombian star sprinter Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Emirates) and Laurens De Plus (Jumbo-Visma) unclipped during the lumpy seventh stage ending in L’Aquila.

Gaviria, 24, was nursing knee pain and decided to pull the plug early in the Giro. The Colombian sprinter was declared winner of stage 2 after Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) was relegated. He finished second in stage 5.

“I was struggling from the start today and my left knee has already been hurting for some days,” he said. “I tried to hang on but I could barely push the pedals.
“It’s a pity because we were doing okay in the sprints and were ready to have another crack. The knee pain has complicated things. I’ll rest now, take care of the knee pain and come back and build towards the next big goals.”

Gaviria’s early exit leaves the pink jersey squad with two fewer riders as it tries to defend the lead of Valerio Conti. Colombian rider Juan Molano was pulled out of the Giro d’Italia this week by his UAE-Emirates team for what it said were “unusual physiological results” in internal team controls.

That leaves Conti a bit short-handed as he tries to hold on to the pink jersey, with an eye on at least arriving at Sunday’s San Marino time trial in pink.

De Plus’s exit could have larger implications in the overall battle for pink. Conti is expected to fade out of contention in the third week in the mountains, and that’s just when the Belgian climber was expected to step up for team captain Primoz Roglic.

Team officials said De Plus was struggling with a worsening sore throat in the cold and wet opening days of the Giro.