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Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step AlphaVinyl) heads into the second half of the Vuelta a España with over a minute of a lead on GC rivals and even though the Belgian is likely to double that advantage in the stage 10 time trial Tuesday he is still aiming to quell the hype around his chance of overall success.
Evenepoel has been in a league of his own since the race started over a week ago in the Netherlands with the uphill finishes that prepared the first week offering the 22-year-old with repeated opportunities to distance the rest of the pack. So far only Enric Mas, second at 1:12, has offered up any proper resistance with the three-time winner and defending champion Primož Roglič best of the rest at almost two minutes in arrears.
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- Vuelta a España: Primož Roglič ‘limited damage’ in Evenepoel raid
The Vuelta a España has still two weeks left to run, and Evenepoel’s record in grand tours reads as one start and one DNF. At the age of 21 he enlisted in last year’s Giro d’Italia where he started well but faded before eventually abandoning. This time around he looks like a far more assured athlete, and while he enters the unknown of racing in the lead of a grand tour, he has been faultless until this point.
The same could obviously be said of Tadej Pogačar at this year’s Tour de France before the Slovenian was undone on the Col du Granon, and even Evenepoel knows that the jury is out on his chances of wearing red in Madrid.
Before the race he stated that his initial aims were to win a stage and finish inside the top ten overall. He still hasn’t won a stage but it seems only a matter of when rather than if considering the friendly parcours he will face on stage 10.
“The goals are still the same. They are not changing,” he said during his rest day press conference as his red jersey hung in the backdrop.
“This is still my first grand tour. Last year I started the Giro but you can’t compare the rider that I was back then with the one I am now. I still don’t have my stage win, to be clear. It’s special to wear the red jersey but I’m really dreaming of a grand tour stage win.”
Evenepoel’s team has stacked up well so far in the race too. Julian Alaphilippe has been present when called upon, and despite losing Pieter Serry, every fire has been handled with maturity and precision. There’s no sign of fragility or weakness so far.
“The team is strong, the team is confident. It’s a new thing for us and like an expedition. We just gave it our all but the first week was super hard racing. The last week was super brutal but the team did well, and so did I. we were ready and focused and we’ll try to keep that mentality and team spirit. Everything we did for the first week we’ll try and repeat for the second and third week.”
While his advantage is decent there is always the chance that the third week could flip the race on its head. A mid-stage ambush through the intermediate mountains or the resurrection from Roglič’s GC hopes cannot be discounted, and Evenepoel knows that playing the long game is the only way to truly measure his efforts.
“I can’t say anything about the third week. It’s just day by day. Now it’s the time trial, then sprint stage, mountain stage but the fatigue builds up each day and I hope to recover as much as possible on the easier days and then be ready for the hard weekend. Then it’s the same story for the final week. The third week is still far away. I ask for turns. I asked for turns from Enric but I have advice from within the team to just stay calm if they don’t want to work and to just do my own thing.”
Evenepoel must not fall into the trap of using up too much energy, however. This is now his race to lose and there is still a lot of climbing to come. Doing his own thing has netted him a healthy lead and he could start stage 11 with over three minutes on his nearest rivals.
Game over? Not quite.