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Remco Evenepoel braces for ‘a big war’ in trap-riddled stage 20 of Vuelta a España

Evenepoel closes in on red jersey but remains wary of an Enric Mas and Movistar onslaught in multi-mountain test Saturday.

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TALAVERA DE LA REINA, Spain (VN) – “Muy Dura.

“Very hard.”

That’s what Remco Evenepoel expects from stage 20 of the Vuelta a España as he closes in on a historic Belgian red jersey.

Evenepoel surfed the wheels through Friday’s circuit race around Talavera de la Reina as he relished a straightforward 14th day in the maillot rojo ahead of a stage that will blow the doors off Saturday.

“It will be like a big war,” Evenepoel said Friday night. “You can expect everything. You can expect the best. You can expect the worst. It might go in every way but I hope everything comes into our way and into our dream.”

Stage 20 deep in the ambush territory of the Guadarrama mountain range will see Enric Mas go all-in on a late race raid on red.

Five categorized climbs through the terrain that saw Fabio Aru overturn Tom Dumoulin in 2015 will put a depleted Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team to the ultimte test as Movistar and its pack of savvy Spanish veterans look to overturn Mas’ 2:07 gap.

Also read: Evenepoel won’t stop racing until he reaches Madrid

“It’s a very hard course, it’s going to be quite hot again tomorrow. It might go all the way,” Evenepoel said.

The briefing on the Movistar bus won’t be altogether straightforward as the team looks to balance Vuelta ambition with its longer-term future. The long-running Spanish squad is currently dangling within range of relegation and its 42-year run at the top of pro cycling is under threat.

“Movistar will try to take over the red jersey, but I think also in their mind they don’t want to drop back all the way in GC,” Evenepoel said. “Like Enric said a few times, they still need the UCI points, and if they can finish at least second in GC they do a really good job for their WorldTour classification.

“I don’t know what to expect. They will try for sure but I don’t think they will kill themselves and then maybe lose a lot of time themselves. We expect we will be attacked by Movistar, not just once but a couple of times.”

Stage 20 will make or break Remco’s red jersey.

‘I start to dream’

Evenepoel is on the brink of bringing something big to Belgian cycling. The bike-mad nation hasn’t won a grand tour since Johan De Muynck took victory t the Giro d’Italia in 1978.

“Knowing that tomorrow is the last real stage for GC, obviously now the tension starts to grow, the team starts to dream, I start to dream,” Evenepoel said.

“But I think to stay as strong as possible is the best we can do, because if you start to stress or panic you lose energy. There’s no need for stress, panic.”

With Evenepoel just 22 years old, Belgian fans are baying at the prospect of a new grand tour champion for the decade to come. Yet Evenepoel has brushed off the pressure with aplomb, just like he so far swatted away the attacks from a swathe of more experienced grand tour challengers and scored two stage wins along the way.

Three weeks after he sprinted for the line in the opening stage TTT, Evenepoel now stands just 181km away from a victory he envisaged all season.

“We just need to believe in ourselves like we did since day one,” Evenepoel said Friday. “I’m sure the whole team will do all they can to bring this red jersey home.”