Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) plummeted down the standings on stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse, admitting that he didn't have the legs to keep pace with his rivals for the overall title.
The Belgian rider came into the Tour de Suisse as a major contender having dominated the recent Tour of Norway to take his season win tally to nine. However, his hopes of victory were dealt a near-terminal blow on the hilly finishing circuit around Novazzano on Thursday afternoon.
The writing was on the wall as Evenepoel begun to struggle and lost contact on an uncategorised climb with more than 20km to go. Although he rejoined the bunch with help from teammates, he was unable to follow as the race ignited on the final time of the key Pedrinate climb inside the final 10km.
He crossed the finish line in 28th place, 2:12 down on stage winner and new overall leader Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe).
"Definitely the heat has something to do with it, but also I felt my legs were getting heavier and heavier every lap," Evenepoel said.
"It's not the legs I needed to have for this stage. It was similar to the first stage but there I definitely had the legs. Here I didn't have very good legs. I'm not going to say they were super bad but not enough to follow best guys."
Evenepoel, who started the day tied on time with the main cluster of pre-race favourites, plummeted down the overall standings to 19th place, 2:22 down on Vlasov.
Evenepoel refused to entirely rule out his GC prospects but, even with a 25km time trial to come on the final day, he has left himself with a huge amount of ground to make up. Even before he's able to take that opportunity to take time, he faces two tough days in the mountains on Friday and Saturday, where any further sign of weakness will be punished once again.
"There are still two super hard and long stages to come so I'll keep fighting and doing my best. I also keep the TT in my head, which is quite long," Evenepoel said.
"But I really can't lose any more time if I still want to keep up with the best GC guys or have a nice GC at the end of the week."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.