Stage 10: Elche - Alicante
Date: Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Stage timing: 14:40-17:30 CET
Stage type: Individual time trial
The momentum was already with Remco Evenepoel at this Vuelta a España and now he gets something like a home-field advantage to boot. When he rolls down the start ramp in Elche for Tuesday’s stage 10 time trial, the race leader’s aptitude in the discipline will be matched by his knowledge of the roads.
Some of the formative moments of Evenepoel’s cycling life have played out on the Costa Blanca. He was still a junior when he arrived in Calpe for his first training camp with QuickStep in December 2018. In the winter of 2020, when he resumed training on the road after breaking his pelvis at that year’s Il Lombardia, he opted for the familiarity of the province of Alicante.
More recently, Evenepoel spent part of his build-up to this Vuelta at the SyncroSfera hotel in nearby Denia, where he slept in a special atmosphere-controlled room that allowed him to artificially replicate the effects of being at altitude. Tuesday’s 30.9km run to Alicante was, meanwhile, the only stage of the Vuelta that he chose to reconnoitre in person. Unsurprisingly, he liked what he saw.
"I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. It’s completely flat, even going more down than up,” Evenepoel said on Monday’s rest day. “Only in the last three kilometres, there is a 1km climb which can make it really hard, because you’ll already be full of lactate after 30 minutes of full gas.”
Evenepoel’s decision to race the Vuelta this year rather than return to the Giro d’Italia was based partly on the general suitability of the course and, more specifically, on the presence of a time trial of these dimensions. Like Tom Dumoulin at the 2017 Giro, Evenepoel’s general classification strategy appears to be built around the individual effort just before the race’s midpoint.
Unlike the Dutchman, mind, Evenepoel arrives at his chosen rendezvous already holding a sizeable buffer over his rivals. The Vuelta is not yet at match point – Madrid is still almost two weeks away, after all – but this time trial could tip the balance still further in Evenepoel’s favour.
Mas and Roglič
As the second week gets underway, only two men – Enric Mas (Movistar) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) – remain within two minutes of Evenepoel in the overall standings. Mas begins Tuesday’s time trial 1:12 down and he can expect that deficit to double at the very least by day’s end. Roglič, already 1:53 back, will hope this time trial can reignite his flickering challenge, but he has not had a rouleur like Evenepoel for a rival in any of his three previous Vueltas.
Evenepoel and Mas have raced against each other in time trials on just two occasions, both this season, and the Belgian leads the head-to-head 2-0. The more relevant comparison came in the flat opening time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico, where Evenepoel picked up 59 seconds on Mas in just 13.9km at Lido di Camaiore. Mas simply cannot afford to ship over four seconds per kilometre here.
Roglič, by contrast, has a 4-1 record against Evenepoel, though their encounters have been on hillier and more technical courses than this. Evenepoel got the better of Roglič en route to silver at the 2019 Worlds, while their most recent time trial clash came in the opening 7.5km test at Itzulia Basque Country. Roglič was five seconds quicker there, but the lie of the land – in every sense – is altogether different now.
Evenepoel does not have Roglič’s experience of racing time trials after a week of Grand Tour racing, but he has appeared noticeably fresher than him throughout the opening phase of this Vuelta. Small wonder that Jumbo-Visma have couched Tuesday’s time trial as a chance for Roglič to gain ground on the rest of his rivals rather than on the currently unassailable maillot rojo. “I don't expect a big gap between Primož and Remco on Tuesday,” said directeur sportif Grischa Niermann. “But there are also other riders on whom we want to take time.”
The hope for Roglič is that Evenepoel’s obvious recent progress on steep climbs has come at the expense of his raw power on the flat, though the normal rules don’t seem to apply to the Belgian. The terrain certainly didn’t seem to matter when he was powering away from the peloton at the Clásica San Sebastián, of course, while Evenepoel has always credited a large part of his prowess against the watch to the aerodynamic advantage offered by his slight stature.
For most of the other contenders, this time trial is an exercise in damage limitation. The Spanish youngsters Carlos Rodriguez (4th at 2:33) and Juan Ayuso (5th at 2:36) have produced some solid time trials in their young careers, but the sample size is small, and this is a whole new challenge.
Simon Yates (6th at 3:08) has benefited from Marco Pinotti’s technical expertise at BikeExchange-Jayco this year, most notably when he won in Budapest time trial on the Giro d’Italia, but this pan-flat course makes no concession to his gifts as a puncheur. For Ayuso’s UAE Team Emirates companion João Almeida (7th at 4:32), this test is essential to his flagging challenge, even if time trialling appeared to be more reliable during his time at QuickStep.
The course, as Evenepoel outlined, is slightly downhill for the first 16km, which bring the riders to the checkpoint in L’Altet. From there, the route swings northwards towards Urbanova and onto the coast road. According to technical director Fernando Escartín, the breeze on this exposed section may be “problematic,” though the forecast suggests riders will be gently pushed along the coast by a 10kph cross-tailwind on Tuesday en route to Alicante.
It doesn’t take a weatherman to know the prevailing winds on this Vuelta, for now at least, are blowing firmly in Evenepoel’s favour. The Belgian will still be in red on Tuesday evening. The only question is by how much.
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.
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