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Evenepoel and his outsider bid to win the pink jersey ran out of gas Monday in soggy, brutal conditions.
The grand tour rookie, already on the back foot from earlier losses, bogged down on the mighty Passo Giau in the weather-shortened stage 16.
“I said even before that I didn’t have any expectations coming into the race after that lengthy injury and with just two months of training,” Evenepoel said. “I don’t think everyone thought I could be in top form for three weeks.”
The budding Belgian star lost contact well before race leader Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) attacked to win on the beyond-category steeps, and eventually ceded more than 24 minutes.
Also read: Evenepoel impresses in early days of Giro
With the losses, the 21-year-old tumbled out of the top 10, dropping from seventh at 3:52 back, to 19th at 28:07 back.
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) May 24, 2021
If the Deceuninck-Quick-Step was hoping for a strong final week to keep alive a run at the final podium, those hopes were shattered Monday against the unmovable mass of the mighty Dolomites.
Racing for the first time since his horrific crash in August at Il Lombardia, the grand tour rookie finally succumbed to what many viewed as the inevitable.
“Losing that much time shows that I didn’t have a good stage and I really felt the fatigue in my legs,” Evenepoel said. “At the same time, it’s a learning process that I’m sure will help me in the future.”
Evenepoel finished 24 minutes down today, but wants to ride to Milan he tells Het Nieuwsblad. "I had an offday" he says, wants to enjoy the rest day and will see what he can do for the team and Almeida https://t.co/9QianYIoPn (🇳🇱)
— the Inner Ring (@inrng) May 24, 2021
With Evenepoel suffering, João Almeida revived his GC hopes by riding into an early breakaway. The Portuguese rider, who rode in pink for two weeks last year and finished fourth overall, climbed into 10th overall.
Evenepoel said he will now ride to support his teammate, and save his legs for the final-day time trial.
It was a day of reckoning for Evenepoel, who already said he vows to come back for more in the future.
“It was an off-day, but we knew this could happen,” he told journalists. “I only trained for two months ahead of this Giro. That is nothing, and not enough to be 100 percent ready for competition. But that’s life.”
Untested beyond seven straight days of racing before coming to this Giro, Evenepoel already exceeded expectations by hanging into the top-10 going into the final week of racing.
“I had no expectations for myself,” he said. “I feel that it was going less and less every day. Today it was just completely gone. It’s part of the learning process and I’m taking it into next year. It’s just an accumulation of efforts over the past week.
“They may have been a bit too much for my body at the moment,” he said. “We knew it could happen. You don’t hope for it, but if it is there, it is there.”
“Remco fever” in the Belgian media certainly will not fade. He came within seconds of the pink jersey in his grand tour debut, and with the Olympics on the horizon, the Evenepoel phenomenon is just getting up to speed.
There’s not been a grand tour since 1976 and Lucien van Impe, so just being close is big news in the cycling-crazed nation.