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The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl captain spun a trap for his rivals who tried in vain to match his searing pace up the short but brutally steep summit at Les Praeres.
“I really didn’t expect to go to the time trial with this lead. I’m really emotional in a good way,” Evenepoel said. “It was up to me to take time. I had the legs to go full throttle and I’m very happy with what we showed as a team.”
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Enric Mas went into the red trying to hold his wheel, and three-time defending champion Primož Roglič was on damage control. That’s how good Evenepoel was.
If there were any doubt about Evenepoel’s climbing legs or Quick-Step’s ability to manage a grand tour leader’s jersey, they were emphatically erased Sunday.
Evenepoel: ‘It’s all about the power’
Despite losing Pieter Serry to COVID-19, the team rallied around Evenepoel, and then he turned on the turbos on the short, but steep climb deep in the heart of Asturias.
No one could match him, and he widened his lead to 1:12 to Mas, and to nearly two minutes to Roglič.
“To be honest, I already felt super tired, but when you feel the legs, everybody feels them,” Evenepoel said. “In a climb like this, it’s all about the power, there’s no drafting or anything because it’s too steep.”
With the Vuelta seeing its second of three rest days Monday as the peloton and entourage travel to Alicante, many are wondering how much more time Evenepoel can take in Tuesday’s individual time trial.
Only Roglič should be able to limit the losses, while a bundle of Spanish climbers elbowing into the top-10 could all bleed time.
“I really didn’t expect to go to the time trial with this lead,” Evenepoel said. “I think the team did perfect today. I have just no words anymore for the guys on the team, they really deserve a few rest days.
“The Vuelta is far from over and we must always be focused and careful. This situation is much better than if I were behind. A big thumbs up to the team who did a great job,” Evenepoel said.
“I want to try to enjoy the time trial in my red jersey. To ride it in the red jersey is a dream come true. I know the course and know what to expect. My family is also there Tuesday; I will give everything.”
A wiser, more mature Evenepoel at 22
Evenepoel said part of his sudden rise is due in part that he’s a wiser and smarter rider. Still only 22 and this Vuelta being his second grand tour, Evenepoel said his setbacks, including a career-threatening fall at the 2020 Il Lombardia, helps keep the pain in perspective.
“I’ve been going through so much already in my life and this is why I can keep fighting and suffering,” he said. “Everything I’ve been through two years ago really made me a new person.”
— Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team (@qst_alphavinyl) August 28, 2022
Evenepoel said his performances so far in the mountains should be taken with a grain of salt, as he was quick to point out that Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar are not racing.
“I think maybe the two strongest climbers are not here: Jonas and Tadej. But I’m really happy with how I’m climbing,” he said. “I’ve been working really, really, really hard to get to this level, to get these climbing legs, looking for the perfect weight and stuff like that, but what we have now is perfect so far.
“I’m not going to say I’m the best climber or rider so far; that’s really difficult to say.”
Regarding pressure, Evenepoel said bring it on.
“To survive this weekend, and the time trial coming up after, these were three really important days that I marked with a red marker pen for this Vuelta,” he said. “I am really looking forward to Tuesday’s time trial. First, I will enjoy my rest day … I need a good ice cream tonight.”