Deceuninck-QuickStep leader Remco Evenepoel has recognised that he found it tough to handle the GC battle during the first serious climbing challenge of the 2021 Giro d'Italia on stage 4, but rather than panic, he successfully limited the gaps.
Having struggled a little the steep final climb of Colle Passerino, the 21-year-old only lost a minimal amount of time. He crossed the line just 11 seconds behind Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) after the group went on the attack two thirds of the way up.
Making his return to racing after a nine-month absence, Evenepoel explained later that he had not experienced this kind of sudden, powerful changes of pace on the Passerino in some time. Instead, he opted to keep going at his own rhythm on the four kilometre, 10 per cent climb alongside other favourites such as Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) and Romain Bardet (Team DSM).
Thanks to his small time loss, Evenepoel himself has dropped form third to eighth overall, and is at 1:28 overall.
However, he remains narrowly ahead of Bernal, who led the favourites group which dropped Evenepoel, and is still 21 seconds up on Simon Yates (BikeExchange), who also lost a little time on the Colombian.
"It was a hard day, especially because of the weather, but to be honest it was quite a hard final," Evenepoel said after the finish. "I really feel that I haven't done these short and really intense efforts in the final for quite a long time so I think I did my best.
"I also didn't want to follow and blow up because I just wanted to lose as little time as possible and I think I did quite a good job just losing around 10 seconds on the big GC favourites. So there's nothing to complain about."
Evenepoel had been well-placed by his teammates on the initial part of the climb on a day when atrocious weather conditions made it hard for the entire peloton.
"The boys did an amazing job, keeping me out of trouble, and warm and dry. Or at least, as dry as was possible," Evenepoel joked.
"It was a good day for sure, but my body needs to get used to rainy conditions and long distance races again."
In contrast to Evenepoel's ride, his Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate and co-leader João Almeida had a much rougher stage, finishing 49th and nearly six minutes down after dropping early on the climb. Team sources said simply he had had "a bad day."
Evenepoel will now be the sole leader of Deceuninck-Quick Step's GC challenge, and his next climbing test will come on Thursday, on the San Giacomo summit finish – a much longer, but much steadier ascent. The rain forecast for later this week, though, could once again render the stage much tougher than it would otherwise be.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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