Evenepoel: Mission accomplished on first hilly stage at Vuelta a España

LAGUARDIA SPAIN AUGUST 23 Stage winner Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and Team Jumbo Visma and Remco Evenepoel of Belgium and Team QuickStep Alpha Vinyl react after the 77th Tour of Spain 2022 Stage 4 a 1524km stage from VitoriaGasteiz to Laguardia 627m LaVuelta22 WorldTour on August 23 2022 in Laguardia Spain Photo by Justin SetterfieldGetty Images
Remco Evenepoel of QuickStep-AlphaVinyl acknowledges stage 4 winner and new GC leader Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma after the finish in Laguardia (Image credit: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

The key high mountain stages and the individual time trialling of the 2022 Vuelta a España are still some way off but Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) passed another important test on Tuesday as the Belgian came home comfortably in the front group on the uphill finish at Laguardia.

Despite losing some bonus seconds to new race leader and overwhelming-favourite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), the Belgian finished securely in the front group. Like Roglič, he also snatched a seven-second advantage on other top rivals like Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), many on the wrong side of a late split.

Recent history in events like the Clásica San Sebastián meant there had never been any doubts about Evenepoel’s ability to handle the Basque climbs of the first week. More importantly, perhaps, on Tuesday Evenepoel showed he had adapted to the much hotter temperatures in Spain well, and when it came to not getting caught out in a fraught finale in what is only his second Grand Tour, knew how to be in the right place at exactly the right time.

“I lost some bonus seconds, but that’s part of riding a Grand Tour,” Evenepoel told reporters after he reached the team bus a few kilometres away from the finish. “All in all, it was a successful day.”

“I would rather have taken some bonus seconds myself, but you can’t have everything in life. I didn’t lose any extra seconds, and that’s the most important thing.”

Evenepoel’s teammate Julian Alaphilippe, expected to be up there on a finish that favoured him, concluded the stage in a relatively anonymous 20th position. Evenepoel explained this by saying that although QuickStep-AlphaVinyl had worked for Alaphilippe, when push came to shove, the World Champion simply “didn’t have the legs” on the day.

As for the Belgium himself in the final kilometre, he had performed well, but with certain limitations, Evenepeol said. Asked how he’d got on, his first reaction was spoken in French, a simple, “ça va.” [OK].

“A one kilometre uphill is a very intensive, very specific effort and the kind that I haven’t done in training for a while,” he then recounted in Flemish. “I had to be in the front to not lose time, and there was a small gap behind me. That’s the risk when it’s going so fast uphill.”

He brushed aside any real importance of being in the thick of the action and trying for a time bonus at the top of the last classified climb, La Herrera. Rather, he said, that had happened because he was getting in a good position for what proved to be a brutally fast descent.

“I just happened to be there,” he said. “We knew the descent was fast and technical and it says a lot when you hit 100 kilometres an hour. 

“In the back of the bunch, it’s splitting apart, there’s sprinting and accelerating in every corner. You just save a lot of energy by staying in the front.”

From there it was only a few fraught minutes before the race hit the ascent into Laguardia, but Evenepoel said that by that point he was working for himself. 

“I did my own thing,” he said, “and maybe I could have finished a few places higher up if I had had some more confidence in my sprint. But all in all: mission accomplished today.”

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Alasdair Fotheringham