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Vuelta a Espana

Remco Evenepoel: ‘It’s too early to say I can win’ the Vuelta a España

Evenepoel compares the red jersey to his victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège: 'My first leader's jersey is an amazing feeling.'

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SAN MIGUEL DE AGUAYO, Spain (VN) — Remco Evenepoel is over the moon that he’s in the red leader’s jersey at the Vuelta a España, but quickly cautioned that it’s too soon to say he’s the favorite to win.

Evenepoel lit up the rain-soaked sixth stage Thursday up Pico Jano to finish second and roar into the race leader’s jersey by dropping his direct GC rivals and gapping overnight leader Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ).

“I cannot say at this moment I am going to win the Vuelta, not at all,” Evenepoel said. “There are still two weeks of racing. What is sure is we will do everything we can to keep it.”

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The red jersey is a milestone for Evenepoel, who came close to the pink jersey in his grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia, but faded away before abandoning.

A refocused Evenepoel learned lessons from last year’s Giro experience, and came into this Vuelta thinner and better prepared. He uncorked an attack halfway up the Pico Jano climb, and only Enric Mas could answer.

It came down to a small margin, but Evenepoel snuck into the lead by 21 seconds to Molard, with Mas slotting into third at 28 seconds back.

“I think what I achieved today is as beautiful as my win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège,” Evenepoel said. “My first leader’s jersey is an amazing feeling.

“The Vuelta is far from over. We’re going to do our maximum and best to try to keep the jersey and try to defend it for the next three days, then we’ll see what it brings.”

‘Mas didn’t pull through’

Evenepoel was already looking ahead at two summit finales looming in Asturias this weekend but didn’t want to forget just how amazing it felt to be leading the race.

Pre-race favorite Roglič couldn’t match his acceleration, and only Mas was able to stay glued to his wheel. Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix) held on to win, and Evenepoel suggested if Mas had been able to offer some help on the climb they could have challenged for the stage win.

“I have no feeling of deception or disappointment,” he said. “To take a leader’s jersey in a grand tour you had no reasons to feel sad because of missing the stage win. There are only positive feelings in my second place.”

He confirmed he asked Mas to take pulls, but the Spanish rider didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t.

“I did ask for help Mas but he never did,” Evenepoel said. “We knew the gap was going, and if we worked together, maybe we could catch the guy in the break.

“The most important was to extend the lead to the other strong climbers. Enric was just able to follow, but I am not mad at all. He did a perfect race as well, he looks really strong to do well in this Vuelta.”

Evenepoel celebrates red, but for how long? This weekend will say a lot if he might be able to contend for the podium in Madrid.

But if he rides out of this weekend in Asturias with red, the Vuelta’s next stage is the individual time trial waiting in Elche next week. That might give Evenepoel an even bigger gap.