Remco Evenepoel can feel Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) breathing down his neck in the overall classification at Tirreno-Adriatico. Yet in another sign of his newfound maturity and more controlled racing style, the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl rider brushed aside Pogačar’s attacks and his three-second time gain on stage 3 as nothing to worry about.
He is perhaps aware he will be unable to match Pogačar in the decisive stages of Tirreno-Adriatico and is not interested in a clash of egos and pride.
"It was not my goal to make him spend energy. It was his own decision, he is wise and professional enough to know what he has to do," Evenepoel said with poker-face indifference.
"We knew that he was going for it again, we knew it when UAE started to speed up. I was only a bit surprised that he continued with the attack to the finish line. Maybe he saw something in it, but it's quite difficult to stay away when you're four guys in the front and the bunch is still super-fresh with a 15km flat ride to the finish line. Once we finished the downhill, the gap was closed almost immediately."
Evenepoel has clearly matured after returning from injury last spring and the disappointment of the 2021 Giro d'Italia when he faded on the gravel stage after initially battling with Egan Bernal for every second. He is no longer interested in those scuffles.
"I also did that in the Giro last year. I won't say I'm sorry, but I won't fight for every second. The team have also told me that, too," Evenepoel explained.
"As I said yesterday and this morning, too, six seconds aren't a lot and three seconds aren't a lot either. I think he spent a bit of energy in that attack but I don't believe that. I'm just counting on myself and my own legs."
Evenepoel still leads Pogačar in the overall classification and is in a prime position to take the race lead on Thursday's uphill finish to Bellante if Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) falters. He will start the stage in the best young rider's white jersey in the hope of swapping it for the blue leader's jersey but will have to watch out for Pogačar attacking again, winning the stage, taking the ten-second time bonus and even the race lead.
The first real time gaps could open on the four-kilometre climb up to Bellante on Thursday and again on the 12.6 per cent Muro on during the climb to Fermo on Friday. Other time gaps will surely emerge during Saturday's mountain stage over Monte Carpegna.
"Tomorrow is a different stage, it will be difficult to drop him, but I'm not going to hope that he misses the energy tomorrow that he spent today," Evenepoel said sportingly.
"But you never know, maybe I can try to take some more seconds back at the finish. But that's not what is on my mind right now. The most important thing is to try to follow him, and make the best out of it, and if I have an opportunity for myself, try to take it."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.