Remco Evenepoel has faced a rollercoaster of emotions during his professional debut with Deceuninck-QuickStep at the Vuelta a San Juan, enjoying moments of success and personal satisfaction, then the tensions from the Iljo Keisse incident, and ultimately the loss of Julian Alaphilippe's race lead on Friday's mountain finish at Alto Colorado.
The 19-year-old Belgian found the courage to admit that he made a crucial mistake on the climb that perhaps lead to Movistar's victory. He had been told to mark Anacona and close down any dangerous early attacks. But in a split second, Anacona got away, while Evenepoel and his teammates were out of position.
"We wanted to keep the jersey, that was the big goal but we lost it," Evenepoel said after initially showing signs of nervousness when he arrived at the teams' vehicles.
"We made a small mistake when Winner Anacona attacked. I had to follow him but when he attacked, there was a gap in the group and I had to close it on my own. I had to try to close 20 metres into a full headwind. I was a bloc and just wasn't able to follow him. That was the only point where we made a mistake," he explained, trying to find a positive twist to Deceuninck-QuickStep's bad day.
"We gave everything we had. We can be very proud of our performance today, with the way Petr Vakoc rode in the final and with the work Alvaro (Hodeg) did earlier after crashing. Then (Max) Richeze did a good job taking me and Julian up the peloton.
"I gave it everything to close the gap a little on the attacks but the climb was really hard. It was a head wind and really hard. I was pushing close to 500 watts all the time. I think everyone was on their limit."
Evenepoel has experienced every emotion apart from personal victory in the five days of racing at the Vuelta a San Juan. His professional debut had sparked huge interest, especially in his home country of Belgium, as did his third place in the 12km time trial and the intense racing. However, the Keisse story and subsequent protest by Deceuninck-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere showed Evenepoel just how quickly the headlines can change if a teammate is caught up in a scandal.
Evenepoel has not talked about the Keisse case, preferring to talk about the highs and lows of the racing.
"I'm not in great shape, I came here for preparation for the later race, so I think I'm at a good point," he said.
"I've learnt a lot in just a few days, things like how to avoid crashes, how to fight in the echelons and ride on the front. Today I had to learn how to handle defeat too. I think it's been a great week of learning."
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