Julian Alaphilippe and Remco Evenepoel continued to push and inspire each other at the Vuelta a San Juan, with the Frenchman winning the stage and taking the race lead, while his young understudy finished third, just 0.72 of second behind Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates).
Alaphilippe now leads Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) by 18 seconds, Conti and Evenepoel by 22 seconds, with Winner Anacona (Movistar) a major threat at 26 seconds and 2018 winner Oscar Sevilla (Medellin) ninth overall at 41 seconds. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is 11th at 48 seconds with the overall battle expected to play out on Friday's key stage to Alto Colorado.
For now, Alaphilippe is determined to enjoy his back-to-back stage wins and live day by day.
“Yesterday I was really surprised to go all the way to the finish and win that way, it made me really happy. Today was really different, this was 12km totally flat. It’s not my favourite terrain, but I was second in GC and so you never know, I had to give it everything,” Alaphilippe explained.
“It was purely about power. It was 12km TT with just one roundabout. I’ve improved at time trials in recent years think I did what I could to fight the pain and stay in the red.
“This showed I’ve worked hard to attack the season. I’m more concentrated on everything that I do now to perform. It’s a mental thing as much as a physical thing. Things have got better in better in my personal life and that plays a part. My mind is solid now.”
Alaphilippe promised that Deceuninck-QuickStep would step up and accept the responsibility of race leadership entails.
“My first goal was to win a stage, now I’ve done it twice,” he pointed out, recalling he did a similar back-to-back result at last year’s Itzulia Basque Country race.
“For the GC, we’ll take things day after day. We’ll accept our responsibility to defend the leader’s jersey and I’m motivated to race full gas. Alto Colorado will be really important for GC.
It’ll be a really hard stage but if I feel good and continue to keep the jersey, I’ll be really, really happy. If I lose it, I’ll still be really happy with my race.”
Evenepoel: It's never too early to win; it can only be too late
Evenepoel congratulated Alaphilippe on his win and had plenty to celebrate himself, despite regrets about starting his time trial too fast and quickly going into the red. He was a close third on the stage and is now fourth overall. Everyone at the Deceuninck-QuickStep team has been genuinely surprised by Evenepoel’s performances. They know he is a huge talent, but he is performing above expectations. He agrees but is trying to remain grounded.
“I didn't expect to be third already, I was hoping for a top 10, but third is amazing,” Evenepoel said.
“I'm happy a teammate won the TT, because if the other guy would have won by seven tenths of a second then I'd be really angry with myself. We won with Julian and he's the leader, that's the main thing, to keep the leader's jersey this week and we'll do everything for it.”
Evenepoel is still only 19 and turned professional without racing at under-23 level. The Vuelta a San Juan is his first race, but he dismissed the idea that it is too early in his career to win races.
“It's never too early to win, it can only be too late,” Evenepoel said.
"I'm not going to talk about winning but just doing everything I can. I have time and races enough where I can improve, so time enough. Here it’s simple: the leader is the most important so we'll do everything to keep the jersey.”