The Ecuadoran is back in the saddle this week at the Vuelta a Burgos racing for the first time since February.
Defending his title in the rescheduled Giro d’Italia this fall remains his major goal for 2020, but a recent spike of COVID-19 cases in Spain and other places across Europe, however, has caused some worry within the peloton that the entirety of the revised racing calendar — with the Giro in October and the Vuelta a España (October 20 to November 8) — might not unfold as planned.
Carapaz said he’s hopeful prevailing health conditions will stay on the right track in Italy, and that he will have a chance to defend the pink jersey.
“A lot of things can happen between now and then,” Carapaz told VeloNews. “Let’s hope not.”
It’s Spain — not Italy — that is the central worry of a possible new major outbreak currently across Europe.
While COVID-19 struck Italy hard at the start of the outbreak in March, Italy now boasts some of the lowest infection rates in Europe.
That’s encouraging for a string of upcoming Italian races, and there is nothing right now to suggest that the Giro might not happen.
There is a looming fear for everyone inside the peloton, however, that things could worsen this fall, and possibly complicate things for some of the later races such as the Giro or the Vuelta a España, which runs into mid-November.
“Everything is changing so fast, but things are looking good [in Italy],” Carapaz said Thursday morning. “We have the confidence right now that we can race the Giro.”
So far, there is no hint that Carapaz might alter his race calendar to perhaps race the Tour de France instead. Team Ineos’s Tour squad is already loaded with talent, and the team’s long list includes the likes of Chris Froome, Egan Bernal, and Geraint Thomas. The Tour-bound team will be racing in a series of French stage races next month before the August 29 start of the Tour in Nice, France.
Carapaz will race next at the Tour de Pologne (August 5-9) and later at Tirreno-Adriatico, and he might also start race of the Italian one-days such as Il Lombardia. The Giro is slated for October 3-25.
“It’s been a complicated period, but we’re here, we’re excited to race again,” Carapaz said before Thursday’s climbing stage. “Things are going really well right now. And we hope to finish off the season like that.”
With so much of his calendar focused on the pink jersey, the fate of Italy will very much determine the fate of Carapaz in the coming weeks and months.
Racing resumes in Italy this weekend with Strade Bianche, which also marks the opening of the men’s WorldTour season. The new-look Italian racing calendar is busy in August, with a series of one-day races before Tirreno-Adriatico in September.
In terms of safety for the peloton in racing’s return, Carapaz said he is encouraged by what he has seen this week in Burgos in what’s the first major stage race since March. Teams have invested heavily in creating COVID-free “bubbles,” and race officials in Spain have also introduced a series of measures to ensure safer race conditions.
“I think things are going well,” Carapaz said about COVID-19 protocols. “Right now I’d say that all the riders feel pretty good about what we’re seeing. You can see that they are following a lot of protocols, and the team is doing the right things. That gives you confidence that we can keep racing.”
Carapaz, who made a high-profile move from Movistar to Team Ineos over the winter, also said he’s finally enjoying a chance to get to know his new teammates.
So far in 2020, he only raced the Colombian tour in February before the coronavirus stopped the international racing calendar.
“So far, everything is very enjoyable. I’m feeling good, very comfortable, and above all, happy,” he said of Ineos. “Right now we’re getting to know each other even more because everything ended a few months ago in this special year, we couldn’t really get together with everyone from the staff and the riders. Now we’re finally getting to know each other, and everything’s going really well.”
Carapaz, 27, returned to Europe earlier this month after spending the past several months training at high altitude in Ecuador. While many of his teammates were recently training at Tenerife on the Teide volcano, Carapaz laughed and said he has no need for more altitude training right now.
“I’m lucky to have a house [in Ecuador], and when I am home, I like to take full advantage and train at altitude,” Carapaz said. “We made a very good preparation, and I’m excited to get back to racing.”
On Thursday, Carapaz climbed his first major European summit finale in a Team Ineos jersey, finishing seventh at 52 seconds back.