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Vuelta a Espana

How far can Remco go in the Vuelta a España? Evenepoel delivers on GC hype to roar into lead

Evenepoel accelerates away from direct GC rivals on Pico Jano: 'I’ve been focusing on this the past two or three months.'

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SAN MIGUEL DE AGUAYO, Spain (VN) — Remco Evenepoel roared into the red jersey Thursday at the Vuelta a España in a swashbuckling performance that exceeded expectations even for the budding Belgian superstar.

The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider accelerated away from other direct GC rivals midway up the final ramps of the cloud-shrouded and rainy Pico Jano summit, and only Enric Mas (Movistar) could follow.

Like he often does, Evenepoel followed his instincts.

“It was not really planned to attack, we didn’t know the weather or the feeling of the legs, nothing was planned,” Evenepoel said. “To put actions like this into real life is always tricky to predict.”

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Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix) held out to win the stage, while Evenepoel and Mas came through to round out the podium in second and third, respectively.

Add up the seconds, and Evenepoel — who started ahead of Mas on GC — made up enough ground on virtual leader Primož Roglič to ride into a grand tour leader’s jersey for the first time.

Overnight leader Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) faded on the climb, opening the door for Evenepoel to move into the lead by just 21 seconds.

The next step in Evenepoel’s evolution

It’s a historic day in his racing career and professional trajectory. Evenepoel compared the sensation of being in the red jersey as the same emotions as winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April.

Unlike some of his other rivals who either raced the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France before this Vuelta, Evenepoel’s had the Spanish grand tour in his sights since the winter.

A sleeker and wiser Evenepoel was clearly on display Thursday when he patiently waited for his moment to pounce. The weeks and months of preparation paid off.

“I’ve been focusing on this the past two or three months. The hard work pays off,” Evenepoel said. “It’s all about the legs on the day.”

Evenepoel’s legs are clearly sizzling, but Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl is up to the challenge.

The Belgian outfit is largely renowned for its prowess on the cobbles or in the fast lane of the sprints, but Evenepoel’s arrival is giving the team its first GC element in years.

World champion Julian Alaphilippe was digging deep at the front over the day’s penultimate climb to protect Evenepoel’s flanks. The young Belgian is emerging as a mature leader.

“I am just happy with what we showed as a team today, what everyone could see today,” he said. “It’s a team result that is good for today. I didn’t arrive alone, they helped me into the last climb.”

How far can Evenepoel go?

Even he doesn’t know.

On Thursday, he was celebrating his milestone leader’s jersey. With two explosive summits waiting in Asturias, Evenepoel will have his hands full to defend.

If he can carry the jersey into the Vuelta’s second rest day, the following stage is the long individual time trial which just so happens to be the stage he was targeting when the Vuelta started.

Evenepoel’s grand tour future is suddenly now. His winging character and ambition will only mean one thing: he will race to defend.