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MALHÃO, Portugal (VN) – There was little doubt that Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) would close out the overall win at the Volta ao Algarve after his crushing performance in Saturday’s 32.2km time trial.
And in the end, at the conclusion of the final summit finish, the 23-year-old survived a couple of late attacks as Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) battled for the stage win. Such was his control over the race, the Belgian had time to ease up and celebrate in the yellow jersey as he rode across the line atop the Alto do Malhão to finish fifth on the day.
Evenepoel ended the five-day race 1:17 ahead of Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates), with Martínez rising to third after his Ineos teammate Ethan Hayter slipped back on the climb but it was Evenepoel’s dominance, control, and ultimately his maturity that netted him his second Algarve title in three years.
For Evenepoel the result further cemented his stature as one of the prominent week-long stage racers in the peloton and he now heads to Tirreno-Adriatico as one of the marked favorites. The opposition in Italy will be markedly tougher than it was here in Portugal but with a 13.9km time trial to start the race, Evenepoel has a natural buffer from which to distance several rivals and begin his campaign.
“It feels amazing. I knew this week the time trial was the most important. I went all out yesterday and I could still feel it in my legs today. But then when we approached the climb the last time here, Louis Vervaeke and the guys did a perfect job. Louis put a perfect pace. Then I did an attack but I could see the guys were still following and I felt immediately they were not going to attack immediately. So then I decided to put a high pace until 200m to go or something and then when I saw them jumping, I had already pushed quite some power so I just let it go a bit. I knew my advantage was quite big. I just wanted to enjoy the last meters in my yellow jersey a bit more and that’s why I celebrated on the line.”
Evenepoel’s time trial masterclass on stage 5 made everyone sit up and take notice of his form and continued improvements against the clock. He put just under a minute into Stefan Küng (Groupama FDJ) with the rest of the field trailing by even a greater distance. The short stage racing blueprint that Evenepoel used to such success in several other events before Algarve looks as strong as ever and although he will not race 32.2km many times again this year, his consistency and maturity continue to rise.
“I think that’s not a secret,” he said when asked about how he built his overall win around the time trial.
“I think the plan before this race was surviving each mountain stage, Alto da Fóia and here. And then in my time trial, I needed to put as much time as possible into my competitors.”
“I think I improved a lot in the time trial so for me, I think every time trial in a stage race will be the most important day. And then in the climbs, just follow and survive. If I can, take time, but I don’t have to, I can just follow and try to arrive with the first guys. Like today, for example, I knew I could ride sometime in front. Because of my effort in the middle part of the climb, I felt that I didn’t have the freshest legs anymore for the sprint, but that’s why I just kept riding and enjoyed my last 200m.”
Tirreno-Adriatico is just around the corner and Julian Alaphillipe, Thibaut Pinot, Sepp Kuss, Jonas Vingegaard, Enric Mas, Vincenzo Nibali, and two-time Tour de France winner will all be on the start line on March 7. While he would not be drawn on targeting the overall at this point the Belgian admitted that the time trial would act as his first objective before considering the rest of the race.
“I’ll try to win the time trial. That’s the first goal and then we’ll see. I have again a nice TT that I’m going to focus on. It was a big goal for me to arrive in good shape in Tirreno and I feel that I’m improving, I hope that next week in training everything goes well and I hope to do something very nice in a WorldTour race, which for me will be very important this year. Tirreno is a very nice race to win. We go there with a strong team. It’s good for my development as a climber and a GC rider to do harder stage races every time again.”