One day after he stormed into the Vuelta a España lead at Andorra, Remco Evenepoel’s next mission was to lose the red jersey to a non-GC threat as quickly as possible. The Soudal-QuickStep star admitted after Tuesday’s flat run to Tarragona that it had been ‘mission impossible’ to give the red jersey away on stage 4.
A bunch sprint stage was always highly likely, given it was the first clear opportunity for the few fast men who form part of the Vuelta a España peloton this year. Alpecin-Deceuninck duly delivered, placing their sprinter Kaden Groves in a perfect position for his second Grand Tour victory of the season.
As a result, Evenepoel will continue in red for at least one more stage, and the Belgian predicted that he would likely remain in the lead until the next summit finish on the 2023 Vuelta a España route, on Thursday’s stage 6 to Javalambre in the sierras of Teruel.
The Vuelta leader managed to avoid the crashes that rippled through the peloton in the closing kilometres of the day and he told reporters afterwards that his head injury from his stage 3 post-finish crash was not giving him any problems, either.
“It was a similar start to yesterday [stage 3], very calm, the same way we’d gone into Andorra but the other way around so that was very nice,” Evenepoel said.
“There was quite a bit of wind in the middle of the stage. It wasn’t enough for echelons, but quite annoying so you had to be careful if there were splits in the bunch.
“Finally after the last 30 kilometres, it got really nervous with the roundabouts and so on, but overall I think my teammates did a great job keeping me out of trouble and away from the crashes. So overall, a pretty relaxed stage.”
His injuries from when he crashed into somebody, reportedly part of the Andorran police force, at the finish line on Monday did not affect him during the stage, he said. The team doctor had given him a good check-over yesterday evening, and he said he felt fine.
As for looking ahead, the key question now is how quickly he could lose the leader’s jersey to ease pressure on his team before battling to get it back in the key stages further down the line.
“We celebrated the victory, but we knew that today it would be impossible to give it away, probably tomorrow [Wednesday] it will be the same story,” Evenepoel said
“The day after tomorrow [to Javalambre] is probably the first day where it could be possible.
“But like I always said, we don’t want to give it away to a guy who can win this Vuelta,…