Remco Evenepoel may have had to give up his rainbow jersey for a different coloured maillot on stage 3 of the UAE Tour, but the world champion seemed anything but concerned afterwards at the loss.
Even if the music of a local military band at the summit of Jebel Jais came close to drowning out his words in his first press conference as leader of the UAE Tour, the bright red jersey he had just captured was as unmissable as la roja of he wore all the way to Madrid at last year’s Vuelta a España.
Despite his rise to the GC lead, Evenepoel’s ascent of the interminable slopes of Jebel Jais did not go completely to plan, as teammates Pieter Serry and Louis Vervaeke both punctured just before they were about to up the pace in the peloton in a bid to reel in late breakaway Einer Rubio (Movistar).
But despite the setback, Evenepoel put his rarely-seen sprint talents on full display at the summit of Jebel Jais to snatch second place behind Rubio, opening up a time gap of a second on the chasing peloton and blasting into top spot overall.
Now clad in the leader’s red jersey but with the rainbow stripes still prominent on his cap and trainers, Evenepoel recognised that his sprinting was not something that he often worked on, but that it had certainly proved handy on Wednesday in the unlikely setting of a summit finish.
“I’m not that explosive but each year I get stronger and a bit more explosive and it came out today,” Evenepoel said. “Even in some team training camps I can beat some fast punchers in the sprints, so it’s not that I’m very slow. Of course, it’s not my main goal to work on it, and it’s not my strongest point for sure, but it’s nice to have a good sprint.”
Evenepoel had come into the UAE Tour saying that he would be aiming for the podium, but the bar has now clearly been raised. A change of leader is unlikely in the three sprint days ahead of Sunday’s mountaintop finale. For Evenepoel, of course, the sprint that mattered the most came atop of Jebel Jais.
“Of course, this was a climb that suited me, it’s like a time trial actually, always big power,” he admitted. “I surprised myself with that nice advantage in the sprint, and it shows that I still can make a powerful move in the last metres of a race.
“I was thinking about maybe going a bit earlier but I knew there was a headwind in the last 400 to 500 metres, so I had to be smart and wait for the last big punch. That tactic paid off today.”
After winning with Tim…
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