Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) powered to a solo victory at Clásica de San Sebastián on Saturday, dropping his fellow attackers on the final climb and holding off a strong chase group on the run to the line.
“I dreamed one day to win this race, but not today,” the 19-year-old said on the finish line.
Having shown huge potential since signing with Deceunick-Quick-Step, including his first professional win at the Baloise Tour of Belgium in June this year, this victory marks the biggest of Evenepoel’s career so far.
The 227-kilometer race in North-East Spain was littered with short steep climbs, building up to over 5,000 meters of elevation across seven categorized climbs, including the final Alto de Murgil, 1.9km, a 10.8 percent average gradient kick which peaked just 10km to the finish line.
2018 winner Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) returned after his against-all-the odds performance at the Tour de France where he held the yellow jersey for 14 stages, with Evenepoel and Enric Mas key teammates riding to support him. A number of other stars from the Tour, including Egan Bernal (Ineos), Adam and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde of Movistar also took to the start line.
Alaphilippe abandoned after 80km and wasn’t the only rider that looked to be struggling with the Tour in his legs, with Jumbo-Visma’s Laurens De Plus also pulling out after 120km.
A break of 9 formed early and gained around three minutes on the peloton. The tough, attritional course ground down the breakaway group, and with 70km remaining Fernando Barcelo (Euskadi Murias) was the last remaining.
Movistar set the pace for most of the middle of the race, looking to set up their leaders Landa and Valverde. Deceuninck-Quick-Step were also keeping toward the front, working for Mas after Alaphilippe’s abandon.
The relentless heat and hills saw Tour veterans Bernal and Adam Yates dropped from the bunch. Landa was also dropped, but his Movistar team pulled him back to the action.
With 50km to go, breakaway survivor Barcelo was finally caught, and shortly after, the bunch hit the penultimate climb of the day to Mendizorrotz. The steep climb split the peloton in two with Evenepoel among many caught out and distanced from the front of the race. However, the second group was able to chase back to the leaders as the race headed toward the final climb of the day, the Alto de Murgil.
Movistar continued setting the pace, clearly now working for Valverde, with Landa yo-yo-ing on and off the bunch.
Evanepoel and Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) attacked on the approach to the final climb, and soon built a 40-second gap. The pair hit the slopes of the Alto de Murgil together, with the 30-strong peloton following around 35 seconds back with Astana, Movistar, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, and EF-Education First present in numbers.
Evenepoel dropped Skujins with 500m of the climb still to go, while behind, in the group, Valverde and Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) tested their rivals with brief attacks. It wasn’t until Hugh Carthy (EF Education First) attacked from the bunch that a move actually stuck as the Brit set off in pursuit of Evenepoel, now alone at the front of the race.
Evenepoel went over the summit with a 40-second lead, and held that through the descent while his teammate Mas sat at the front of a powerful chase group including Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), Michael Woods (EF Education First), and Valverde, stifling their efforts.
The junior time trial world champion used his prowess against the clock to maintain his advantage on the final flat stretch, winning by 38 seconds. Behind him, Van Avermaet won the sprint for second, with Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) taking third.
“It was a big risk to go in the break so early, but I knew the power I could have on the climb,” said Evenepoel. “I did not expect this. It’s incredible. I didn’t feel good early in the race. ”