Monday's rest day may have called a brief halt to the racing at the Vuelta a España, but Tuesday's stage 10 time trial saw race leader Remco Evenepoel picked up where he left off, extending his lead with his first Grand Tour stage victory.
The Belgian, who has been in red since stage 6, dominated the 30.9km test from Elche to Alicante, storming to a victory 48 seconds ahead of anyone else with an average speed of 55.658kph.
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) couldn't continue his amazing run of Spanish time trial supremacy. The Slovenian finished in second with a time of 24:06, bringing to an end his five-year unbroken run of four wins apiece at Itzulia and the Vuelta.
Evenepoel's teammate Rémi Cavagna rounded out the podium with a time of 34:18 – a minute back – which had stood for over two hours before the GC contenders swept through to deprive him of a second Vuelta stage victory to go with his triumph in Toledo three years ago.
"48? That's a big surprise," Evenepoel said when he was informed of his winning margin after the stage. "I saw that my teammate Rémi did very well. It was perfect that he did such a good time trial for me to know the good times because when I was still sitting in the bus I could see that everybody was slowing down in the second part compared to his times.
"I knew I had to push one power all the time because it was flat with a super-hard finish. My legs were so heavy on the last bump. It was actually really hard, but super nice to win this time trial in the red jersey. It's a nice feeling.
"I'm just so happy to take a stage win. I achieved my dream and now we're going to fight to try and win this Vuelta. The pressure is off. I won a stage. Now the whole team is super confident, I think. Everybody is performing so well and now we just have to fight to keep this jersey and take it home to Wevelgem."
Further back, Ineos Grenadiers' young charges Carlos Rodríguez and Pavel Sivakov impressed with rides to fourth and fifth places. The pair finished within five seconds of one another, with Rodríguez coming home 1:22 down on Evenepoel.
There was little change in the standings among the top 10, with Roglič jumping up to second overall having taken 1:03 on Enric Mas (Movistar), the Spaniard fading as his effort went on. Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) also moved up a spot, edging three seconds ahead of Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) as his seventh-best time of 35 minutes dead saw him gain 35 seconds on the 19-year-old.
Evenepoel's commanding display – 1.3kph quicker than Roglič – more than doubled his GC lead as the Vuelta nears its midway point. What was a 1:12 lead over Mas is now a 2:41 lead over Roglič, with the former now lying at 3:03.
Rodríguez, Yates, and Ayuso are the only other riders to remain within five minutes of the race lead, while lower down the top 10, Sivakov and his teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart jump into ninth and 10th after Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) had a nightmare and lost almost four minutes.
How it unfolded
Eight riders may have left the Vuelta a España between the end of Sunday's stage 9 and the start of stage 10 on Tuesday, but still the race rolled on, with 156 men taking to the start of the 30.9km time trial between Elche and Alicante.
High temperatures aside, there was little to disrupt the riders on the blast to the coast and north to Alicante, with winds low and few technical sections along the 34 to 40 minutes of racing. A late hill would bring one final test to aching legs at the end of a fast day out.
None of the first 10 men to start the stage would break the 37-minute barrier, though the 11th man, BikeExchange-Jayco youngster Kelland O'Brien set the early running with a time of 36:14.
The Australian would spend 20 minutes in the hotseat as sprinters and domestiques putt their rides in, with few troubling the top of the timing boards. Trek-Segafredo's Alex Kirsch was out to test himself, however, going 58 seconds faster before another BikeExchange man, Michael Hepburn cut that time down by another 33 seconds to go top with 35:11.
Hepburn's time wouldn't last long either before one of the main favourites for the day blasted through both checkpoints and the finish in the number one spot. Rémi Cavagna (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) won a Vuelta stage three years ago and would be hoping to contend for another with his time of 34:18, at 54kph well clear of the 43 men who had already finished their runs.
Green jersey holder Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and another BikeExchange rider, Luke Durbridge, both put in strong efforts shortly thereafter, clocking 36:21 and 35:40. Neither came close to the Frenchman at the top of the leaderboards, though, and neither did anyone else setting off in the mid-part of the order.
The wait for the big GC guns was still almost two hours long by the time the first national champion's jersey rolled down the start ramp. 21-year-old Spanish TT champion Raúl García Pierna (Equipo Kern Pharma) acquitted himself well at what was his debut in a Grand Tour time trial, putting in a time of 36:01.
The national champions of Australia (Rohan Dennis), Belgium (Remco Evenepoel), Ecuador (Richard Carapaz), Estonia (Rein Taaramäe), France (Bruno Armirail), Luxembourg (Bob Jungels), and the USA (Lawson Craddock) were still to come, however.
Armirail and Jungels set off shortly afterwards, but none of them would trouble García Pierna's time or the top of the leaderboard. Dennis, also out on course, was going quicker, even if his second checkpoint time was a sizeable 39 seconds slower than Cavagna.
The former two-time world TT champion would eventually cross the line 1:11 down on Cavagna, though Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) would best him a few minutes later, going 28 seconds quicker than Dennis and fractions behind Hepburn with a time of 35:11.
After an hour of no movement at the very top of the standings, it was Craddock who finally broke into the top two, his time of 34:55 at 16 seconds quicker than Hepburn but still 37 down on the rapid Cavagna.
The general classification fight
As the GC men started to head off, Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) became only the fourth man to set a time within a minute of Cavagna, setting a time 59 seconds down on the Frenchman.
Of the also-rans lying outside the top 10, Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën) and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) were the most impressive rider, their times of 35:11 and 35:04 putting them within a minute of Cavagna and inside the provisional top five at that point.
Inside the top 10, things were close at the first checkpoint, with Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers), Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), and Enric Mas (Movistar) all within three seconds of each other and Cavagna, while Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) and Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) lay within 15 seconds of the quickest time.
Moments after his rivals, though, Evenepoel swept through, laying waste to the rest, the red jersey's time of 11:05 after 10.5km a massive 21 seconds up on his teammate Cavagna.
At the finish, Sivakov came through two hours after Cavagna had done so, in the process coming closest to the Frenchman's time at 27 seconds down. The next man home was Miguel Angel López (Astana Qazaqstan), a further 20 seconds back but having sensationally caught his two-minute man, reigning Giro d'Italia champion Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the closing metres.
At the 21km checkpoint, meanwhile, Evenepoel was still flying. The gap to Cavagna was 36 seconds there, with Roglič fractions behind, Mas and Rodríguez just under a minute down, while Yates and Almeida shed more time.
The Portuguese rider endured a nightmare at the finish, taking a wrong turn down the race vehicle deviation route just 200 metres out, though he still managed to cross the line within 1:13 of Cavagna. Yates, meanwhile, was 31 seconds quicker and looking set to edge closer to fifth-placed man Ayuso.
The young Spaniard shed 35 seconds and fifth overall to Yates – and 1:17 to Cavagna – at the line. His countryman Rodríguez was even more impressive, speeding to provisional second, five seconds up on Sivakov and 22 down on Cavagna.
Roglič was next to race home, having saved some juice for the final third of the stage. Cavagna was finally deposed as the three-time Vuelta champion finished his effort, the Slovenian having put 12 seconds into the man in the hotseat.
Mas was the next man through, the penultimate rider to finish before Evenepoel. The Movistar leader had shed time as the stage went on, setting a time of 35:09 to lose a minute and second place to Roglič.
Not too far behind, and having almost caught Mas, Evenepoel finished off the stage three hours after the start. He had saved the best for last, delivering the eighth – and biggest – time trial victory of his young career.
Results powered by FirstCycling
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1