Remco Evenepoel may not have won the first key mountain stage at the Volta ao Algarve, but the young Belgian put himself in the driving seat when it came to deciding the overall honors with a dogged — if not spectacular — display on the Alto da Fóia.
The 22-year-old finished sixth on the stage behind winner David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) and managed to avoid a tangle between Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma) and Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) that left both riders on the deck with the finish line in sight. Evenepoel now trails Gaudu by a single second in the overall standings and sits third, just behind the Frenchman and Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates).
At the finish, as the sun dipped below the horizon, and Evenepoel pulled on the white jersey as the best young rider, he was asked whether the crash had cost him the chance of a win. He was magnanimous in his response, admitting that his priority had been safety.
“No, maybe the first three or four,” he said when asked if the crash decided the stage.
“But I decided to stay around seventh or tenth position, and for the sprint, of course, then you cannot move up to the first place. I was hoping just to arrive in the first group and that’s what I did today, so it was good,” he said told the media.
The headwind conditions on stage 2 essentially mean that stage 4 and the 32km time trial will now decide the overall standings in this year’s race. There is a further uphill finish on the final day of the race but the length of Saturday’s test – especially this early in the season – will cause huge time gaps.
Evenepoel told VeloNews at the start of the race that his time trial preparation had not been ideal due to a technical issue with his set-up but after stage 1 he trained on the rollers using his TT bike. He will start stage 4 as the out-and-out favorite, although Stefan Küng has looked sharp during the opening two stages, and neatly set up Gaudu for his win.
“I felt really good, I think it was the perfect sensations with the eyes on Saturday so I felt really good all day. I knew from the beginning and the hard climbs that I probably would not be dropped today so I feel really happy with the feeling. I was really happy about the legs. I hope I will have the same legs or even better legs on Saturday.”