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TAVIRA, Portugal (VN) — Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) was in a league of his own Saturday as he crushed the field in the all-important individual time trial at the Volta ao Algarve.
The young Belgium finished a massive 58 seconds clear of European time trial champion Stefan Küng (Groupama FDJ), with the rest of the field over a minute down on the 32.2km course.
Quickest at every time check, Evenepoel was in cruise-control by the time he hit the line, and with one stage remaining the 22-year-old has opened up a lead of 1:06 on Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers). American hope Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) sits at 1:25.
Even the winner himself was surprised by his incredible winning margin.
“I’m super, super happy. From the start of the week I knew that this was the most important day for me,” Evenepoel said after his win.
“I tried to take a nice lead in the GC and every day I’ve tried to save myself for today. I think that I had the perfect preparation towards today, working for Fabio Jakobsen, and then surviving on the mountain stage very well.”
“We did a good recon of the TT. The wind was blowing quite a lot, so it was a bit dangerous in the downhill so I didn’t take any risks,” he said. “I’m happy that I survived it without any problems, and then on the climb I just went all out without hesitating. I went full gas. Pure feeling and power-wise I think that it was my best time trial ever.”
Heading into the time trial Evenepoel was the main favorite for both the stage and the overall lead.
However a slightly subdued performance on the first summit finish on stage 2 had opened the door for just the slightest of doubt.
Küng, a formidable time trialist, Ethan Hayter and a handful of others looked like they at least had a fighting chance of pushing the Quick-Step leader close but by the time he opened up a near 10-second lead at the first checkpoint the writing was on the wall.
At the finish he was asked to explain what he put his dominant performance down to. The answer, it seems, appears to be down to extra work in the gym, and aerodynamics.
“I don’t know,” he initially offered.
“We trained on some specific muscles this winter and I think that I improved my long endurance efforts. Time trials like this suit me very much, and I”m very happy that I could win by such a big lead. I didn’t expect to win with such a big lead because Küng is also one of the best time trialists in the world and together with Ganna, Wout, Roglič, me and these other guys. I’m very proud to put in this performance here in Portugal.”
“Again this morning we did a recon and the wind was blowing really hard. We know that’s a bit in my advantage with my aerodynamics and my really small position. There was a lot of times headwind and a lot of times crosswind, so that should have been playing to my advantage.”
There is still one stage remaining in the Volta ao Algarve, another tricky mountain top finish to Malhao.
It’s unlikely that anyone will be able to drop the young Belgian, let alone claw back over a minute in the overall standings, but Evenepoel is expecting a tight battle for the stage win.
“I don’t know how big my lead is but we probably just need to control the race. I think that we can expect a very hard stage at the start and there will be chaos and a big fight to put us under pressure but I have 100 percent confidence in the guys and we’ll try and win the stage tomorrow. We’ll try,” he said.
When asked about Küng’s admirable but ultimately futile performance to finish second, Evenepoel added that he was taken aback by the gap on time.
I’m actually quite surprised with it, I didn’t expect to finish that much ahead. To be honest I expected it to be a really close battle because I rode quite some times for Fabio and also in the mountain stage I had to perform quite well.
“Of course Stefan is one of the best time trialists in the world, he’s European champion for a reason. You should never underestimate your competitors. I’m really happy with what I did today and tomorrow is going to be a big battle. I don’t know exactly what my advantage is… [one minute] ok, that’s quite a big gap but anything can happen. It’s still a hard day tomorrow. We have to be focused and try not to do anything stupid and try to avoid problems.”