The key high mountain stages and individual time trial of the Vuelta a España 2022 are still a long way off but Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) passed another important test on Tuesday as the Belgian returned comfortably to the lead group at arrival uphill to Laguardia.
Despite losing a few bonus seconds to new race leader and big favorite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), the Belgian finished safely in the lead group. Like Roglič, he also took a seven-second advantage over other big rivals like Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), many on the wrong end of a late split.
The recent history of events like the Clásica San Sebastián meant there was never any doubt about Evenepoel’s ability to handle the Basque week one climbs. More importantly, perhaps, on Tuesday Evenepoel showed that he had adapted well to the much warmer temperatures in Spain, and when it came to not getting caught in a tough final in what was not is that his second Grand Tour, he knew to be in the right place at exactly the right time.
“I lost a few bonus seconds, but it’s part of a Grand Tour,” Evenepoel told reporters after reaching the team bus a few kilometers from the finish. “Overall it was a successful day.”
“I would have preferred to take a few bonus seconds myself, but you can’t have everything in life. I didn’t waste any extra seconds, and that’s the most important thing.
Evenepoel’s teammate, Julian Alaphilippe, who was supposed to be up there on a favorable finish, finished the stage in a relatively anonymous 20th position. Evenepoel explained this by saying that although QuickStep-AlphaVinyl worked for Alaphilippe, when things went down the world champion “just didn’t have the legs” that day.
As for the Belgian himself in the last kilometer, he had performed well, but with certain limits, Evenepeol said. When asked how he got away with it, his first reaction was spoken in French, a simple “ça va”. [OK].
“One kilometer uphill is a very intense, very specific effort and the kind that I haven’t done in training for a while,” he said in Flemish. “I had to be in front not to lose time, and there was a small gap behind me. That’s the risk when it goes up so fast.
He dismissed any real importance of being in the thick of the action and trying a bonus time at the top of the final ranked climb, La Herrera. Rather, he said, it had happened because he was getting into good position for what turned out to be a brutally fast descent.
“I just happened to be there,” he said. “We knew the descent was fast and technical and that says a lot when you hit 100 kilometers per hour.
“At the back of the peloton, it separates, there are sprints and accelerations in each corner. You just save a lot of energy by staying up front.
From there, there were only a few tough minutes before the race began the climb to Laguardia, but Evenepoel said by then he was working for himself.
“I did my own thing,” he said, “and maybe I could have finished a few places higher if I had had a little more confidence in my sprint. But in the together: mission accomplished today.