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Burgos victory is next step in Evenepoel’s grand tour ambitions

Belgian phenom is 3-for-3 in GC races so far in 2020.

BURGOS, Spain (VN) — Remco Evenepoel was an unstoppable train in cycling’s big return last week at the Vuelta a Burgos.

The 20-year-old won Thursday’s key mountaintop finale, and then fended off his rivals in Saturday’s pivotal summit finish to secure the overall title.

That makes it three GC titles for the Deceuninck-Quick-Step star in three stage-race starts in what’s been a very strange 2020 season.

“It’s my third victory in GC and my third race, so I am 100 percent in GC victories,” Evenepoel said. “I feel really happy and I am glad it worked out. I worked hard for it, because I have a big dream to become a grand tour rider.”

The stage win and overall title give Evenepoel seven wins on the truncated 2020 season, two more than his impressive rookie season in 2019. He opened 2020 with overall wins at the Tour de San Juan and the Volta ao Algarve before the coronavirus shut down the international calendar.

Evenepoel, who impressed in his rookie season in 2019 with long-bomb attacks and solid time trial skills, also confirmed his climbing chops against some of the sleekest climbers in the world in two mountaintop finales at the five-day Burgos tour.

At the summit finishes Thursday at Picón Blanco, which he won ahead of George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren), and Lagunas de Neila on Saturday, with Iván Sosa (Ineos) and Landa finishing ahead of him, Evenepoel proved he can match the power of some of the peloton’s best climbers.

The climbs at Burgos also gave Evenepoel his first and best chance to measure himself in the mountains ahead of his Giro d’Italia debut in October. His next stage races at the Tour de Pologne and Tirreno-Adriatico will not feature such long and steep climbs as what he faced last week in Spain.

Evenepoel bettered top-class climbers Bennett, Chaves and Carapaz on stage 3's mountaintop finish. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
Evenepoel bettered top-class climbers Bennett, Chaves and Carapaz on stage 3’s mountaintop finish. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

“It always surprises me when I climb with the best guys in the world – I’m really happy I can put myself in that spot with those guys,” Evenepoel said. “I am in a good way so far.”

The 20-year-old admitted he was suffering a bit from the altitude Saturday, which topped 1800m at the summit. That could be a point of worry going into the Giro, where several stages will reach equally high elevation in the second half of the Italian grand tour.

Evenepoel was perhaps a bit too ambitious in the final climb when he pulled hard with about 1.7km to go. Pint-sized Sosa marked his wheel, and pounced with 600m to go to win the stage for the third year in a row. Sosa, who won the Burgos tour in 2018 and 2019, started Saturday more than seven minutes back, so he didn’t pose a direct threat.

Bennett, who had started the day second, faded with 3km to go, leaving only Landa at 38 seconds back as his only direct rival for the GC.

Evenepoel, who has been showing signs of more maturity and improved racing acumen, made perhaps his lone misstep of the week when he accelerated on the upper flanks of the climb just as teammate Joao Almeida was just about to link up with the leading trio of Evenepoel, Sosa and Landa.

The 21-year-old Portuguese rider later finished fourth on the stage and climbed to third overall to share the final podium with Evenepoel, but he could have proven a valuable wheel if Evenepoel had started to struggle in the final kilometer as Sosa and Landa continued to apply the pressure.

“The last attack wasn’t necessary. I have to learn from that,” Evenepoel said. “This win is more important than San Juan or Algarve. I won here without a time trial, and I also was tested by the best climbers in the world. I also learned how to defend a lead.”

Overall, Deceuninck-Quick-Step was ecstatic with how the week went. It won a stage and overall with Evenepoel, and put the cherry on the cake with a stage victory with Sam Bennett in a sprint win Friday.

Evenepoel also took confidence in the various safety measures and health protocols the teams and race organization rolled out this week. With the Tour de Pologne banning fans and media next week, Evenepoel said he’s ready to do whatever it takes to keep be able to race.

“With the protocol, everything was pretty fine,” he said. “It was better that we do it like this than not having any races. I accept the protocols and whatever it takes as long as we can keep racing.”