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MADRID (VN) — Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) kept his cool while under fire for the second day in a row at the Vuelta a España to withstand a barrage of attacks to leave with the red jersey still on his shoulders.
Podium rivals Enric Mas (Movistar) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) attacked on the upper reaches of Sierra Nevada, and though he gave up some more time, he did not buckle.
Evenepoel heads into Monday’s rest day with the GC winds still in his favor.
“It’s a better story than yesterday,” Evenepoel said at the summit. “It’s actually my first time finishing so high in altitude, so I think I did quite well.”
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Well enough to carry the red leader’s jersey into the Vuelta’s final week.
Mas and Roglič might have clawed back time, but Evenepoel still leads, with 1:34 to Roglič and 2:01 to Mas.
Evenepoel has been delivering beyond expectations since the Vuelta hit Spain. One big question mark was how he would racing at altitude, and Sunday’s “queen stage” ranged up to 2500m of altitude.
Not making excuses, but Evenepoel said he was still feeling the pain from Thursday’s high-speed crash on a dusty descent. Typically after a fall it hurts more two or three days after the incident than in the direct aftermath.
Evenepoel was feeling better and looking sharper than he did on La Pandera on Saturday, when he looked dangerously close to cracking.
“I felt a bit stiff from the crash, but it’s getting better every day,” he said at the podium. “So I’m really happy that it’s a rest day tomorrow and I actually lost almost nothing. A good day for us.”
Evenepoel: ‘The third week is a different story’
Evenepoel’s gap is just about the time margins he held going into Tuesday’s time trial stage, when he grabbed even more time against Roglič and Mas.
He gave up most of those TT gains in the past 48 hours, but kept some to his advantage, meaning that he wisely played his commanding lead to his favor. He knew he could give up a little at the risk of not losing a lot.
“The third week is a bit of another story,” he said. “The climbs are not super super hard anymore. I think yesterday I had a pretty shit day, today it was better and in the end I almost lost no time.
“I had to do the whole climb, then Primož [Roglič] attacked me 2km to go … He’s in his right. I managed it very well.”
— Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team (@qst_alphavinyl) September 4, 2022
Evenepoel still faces some climbs in the Vuelta’s final week, but it seems the hardest and steepest climbs are already in the rearview mirror.
There are still some dangers lurking, even with a possible early stage raid if GC rivals can manage to isolate him and pile on.
So far, he’s playing it like a veteran, letting his rivals take a little while he defends the bigger prize.