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Hot off winning the overall at the Tour de San Juan to open his second pro season, the Belgian teenager uncorked a stunning attack Thursday on the upper reaches of a second-category summit finale to drop a chasing pack of GC superstars.
Evenepoel put huge power into the pedals with an attack at about 300m to go to win the stage and take the overall lead at the Volta ao Algarve. The Deceuninck-Quick-Step captain fended off a late charge from Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), with Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) crossing the line third, at two seconds back.
Movement was expected in the 183km stage from Sagres to the Foia summit. Three riders pulled clear in an early move — Michael Schar (CCC Team), Casper Pedersen (Team Sunweb) and Dries de Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) — but everyone expected the stage to be battled out on the short but explosive final ramps. UAE-Emirates, riding for Portuguese star Rui Costa, led the chase, and the pack come together in the final 20km.
Despite a lumpy finale, the favorites saved their matches for the final climb. Rodrigo Contreras (Astana) tried to move at 7km to go, but was duly reeled in under pressure from the shrinking favorites group. Overnight leader and stage-one winner Fabio Jakobsen faded as expected, but the hope was to pass the leader’s jersey to Evenepoel.
The Belgian pocket rocket — who told VeloNews‘s James Startt in an earlier interview that he’s building his form for his grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia in May — jumped with about 300m to go, in a searing attack. None could match his acceleration, and as the chasers clawed ever closer, Evenepoel jumped again to hold his gap. A late surge by Schachmann fell inches short at the line.
With a likely sprint stage on tap in Friday’s 201km stage from Faro to Tavira, all eyes turn to Saturday’s summit finish at Malhão. If Evenepoel can keep it close, Sunday’s 20km time trial finale tilts in his favor for him to win his second stage race in two starts, in 2020.