photo credits @ La Vuelta
Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) soloed to victory in stage 18 of the Vuelta a España today, after the Belgian rider jettisoned the breakaway group with 29 kilometers to go, later reaching the summit of the Puerto de La Cruz de Linares more than four and a half minutes ahead of his closet rival.
Indeed, Evenepoel rode clear of a 14-man break as he dropped Max Poole (Team dsm-firmenich) and Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) on the steep slopes of the first of two ascents of the Puerto de la Cruz de Linares, while Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) led a select GC group towards the summit at more than 10-minutes behind, as he and Primož Roglič shepherded their teammate and current race leader Sepp Kuss to the summit.
“The message was the O for Oumi, my wife. She said if I would take my third victory, I had to dedicate it to her,” Evenepoel said after the stage.
“I felt that I was the strongest of the group and that I didn’t want to waste any time, that I had to go for it. I felt that the legs were super good today and I had a better day like I had in stage 14. It’s an amazing stage to win. It was a super good opportunity to take the points for my jersey – I took all the points – and my third stage win is amazing to end the Vuelta with.
“I think after my off day in Formigal and Tourmalet I had to turn the page and go for stages. I think I won three of the most beautiful stages of the Vuelta and I took the mountain jersey so it has been an amazing Vuelta even if the GC plan didn’t work out.
“It’s amazing to finish the stage with such a good feeling and to have such good legs at the end of the Vuelta. It means that I keep improving and that I just had a bad week in the second week, so I think we should just be happy and proud.”
For Kuss, the American rider said, “I think that first of all the guys did a really great job. First of all pulling the whole day and then on the last two laps of the finishing climb Jan was there and he came back and was riding super for us,” Kuss said after the finish.
“Then Jonas did a really good pace from the bottom. I was a bit scared that he’s so strong that his pace isn’t always the easiest. But he rode super for me and we rode a more defensive tactic. I think there’s what we agree on as a team and between us three before the Angliru stage, which we all agreed on, and then also what strategy we wanted to follow through with after that stage. So, it’s always changing and there are some mistakes here and there, but that’s human nature.
“It’s getting closer,” he said of overall victory. “Tomorrow is a bit of an easier stage, but we have to stay focussed. Stage 20 will be a really long and hard stage. We’re out of the big mountains but there’s always some tough ones.”
It didn’t take long for a move to go clear, with Poole, Caruso, Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Julien Bernard (Lidl-Trek), Lewis Askey and Lorenzo Germani (Groupama-FDJ), Nico Denz (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jarrad Drizners, Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny), Andrea Piccolo (EF-EasyPost), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Hugo Hofstetter (Arkea-Samsic), and Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies) escaping the peloton early-on.
The San Lorenzo climb didn’t see too much action, with Germani and Hofstetter the first to lose contact as the rest of the break stayed together. However, on the subsequent climb, the category-3 Alto de Tenebredo, things exploded, with Evenepoel cutting the group in half with his winning acceleration.
However, Kron was the first to attack. But, he soon faded as Evenepoel took matters into his own hands, with only Poole and Caruso able to follow at first. But, when the road kicked up again, Evenepoel upped the pace, quickly dropping Caruso, while Poole relented a short time later.
Evenepoel lost a little time on the tricky descent, where Caruso got back to Poole, but he had more than enough to give away, and started to pull out again on the approach to the final ascent.
Once he’d ticked off the lower slopes, it was clear he wasn’t going to falter, and he kept on gaining all the way up, later crossing the line with a smile on his face.
Meanwhile, back in the peloton, Bahrain Victorious took the reins along the final climb, with Wout Poels putting in another huge turn for Mikel Landa and dropping Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) plus the Bora-Hansgrohe duo of Cian Uijdtebroecks and Aleksandr Vlasov.
The key moment came when Landa launched the first attack half-way up, joined by Ayuso. All eyes were on Jumbo-Visma, and Vingegaard proved true to statements that he would commit to Kuss as he came to the fore to perform a helper’s pacing duty.
When Ayuso launched the next attack, Kuss jumped after it himself, and he looked perfectly zippy as he eased across to the Spaniard while his two teammates lagged behind. After a lull, the same thing happened again, and this time Vingegaard flicked the elbow for Kuss to follow Ayuso himself, which he did with ease.
The six remaining riders were by then inside the final kilometer, and it was Mas who opened the sprint from range, tracked and pipped by Ayuso. Kuss was third from the group, just ahead of Roglič, who didn’t attack and didn’t sprint ahead but played a far less prominent support role than Vingegaard, who even fell off the back at the end.
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