The young Belgian was expected to challenge Pogačar in their first-ever clash at a stage race this week. However, while the Slovenian once again confirmed his incredible talents day after day in Italy, Evenepoel's seven-second lead from the opening time trial was soon reversed before he cracked completely on the Monte Carpegna on stage 6.
Evenepoel started the stage, which featured two ascents of the so-called Carpegna 'Pantani climb' just nine second down on Pogačar in the overall, but was surprisingly distanced 34 kilometres from the finish. He fought to limit his losses, even setting the fastest time for the final descent. However, Pogačar had already flown away from everybody else to set up another overall victory.
The QuickStep-AlphaVinyl leader eventually crossed the line four minutes down and slipped to 11th overall.
"Not good enough today," the Belgian wrote on social media on Saturday night after not stopping to speak to the press post-stage.
He was more talkative on Sunday before the final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico in San Benedetto del Tronto. There, he admitted that he had a bad day, adding that he lacked the power needed to climb with the overall contenders.
"When you see the ease with which Pogačar rode away, he was clearly the best. At this level you have to be at 100 per cent, otherwise you will pay the price," Evenepoel explained before the final flat stage of the race.
"I'm not saying that on a good day I could have followed Pogačar, but I would have finished in the chasing group or the group behind him.
"I didn't have the day I had hoped for. Even in the valley at 60 kilometres to go I felt I had heavy legs. I never gave up and always kept trying to limit the damage."
Earlier this year, Evenepoel dominated the Volta ao Algarve and seemed back to his best after his 2021 season was affected by his crash at Il Lombardia the previous autumn. However, he is still developing as a stage racer and faces an almost impossible task coming up against Pogačar.
The UAE Team Emirates rider and two-time Tour de France winner is close to his very best after peaking for the UAE Tour, while Evenepoel is still building for the Ardennes Classics. He is only 13 months younger than Pogačar but is at a different point in his career path. The 22-year-old would still need to slim down and even reduce his upper-body muscle mass if he hopes to become a Grand Tour rider and fight for overall victory at the Vuelta a España later this year.
Riders have been suffering in the cold all week in Italy, with temperatures close to zero for much of Saturday and especially on the Carpegna climb. However, Evenepoel admitted his problem was a lack of high-end power rather than the cold.
"I wasn't really cold, so that wasn't the issue. I could push the necessary power, but I couldn't go over the limit," he said openly.
"It wasn't the drama like I had in the Giro last year, I could still keep my rhythm but to race for victory I needed 30 or 40 watts more on the climbs. On a day where you're not 100 percent, you can't just push through that.
"We'll have to look at things again. It was a surprise for me because I had worked well, and I was on track to be on the podium. So, it was quite a disappointment. It's a blow.
"Yesterday was an ideal test, but I failed. I hope I can learn from it and that we find something to avoid it happening in the coming races."
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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.