“Remco, all is not lost,” a roadside sign in French read on the route to the summit finish at Belaigua-Larrau, but after losing 27 minutes on the Tourmalet, the question of whether Evenepoel had the morale, let alone the leg power, to go for a win so quickly was a debatable one.
The answer was provided by the Belgian when he first got in a huge break in the first fraught hour of racing, then slipped away over the top of the first HC climb of the day, the Houcère, with only Romain Bardet (Team dsm-firmenich) for company.
For the next 80 kilometres or so, including the ascent of the agonisingly steep and long Col de Larrau, Evenepoel and Bardet gradually opened up their advantage.
In many senses, just taking part in such a long break through such difficult terrain would have already confirmed that whatever had caused Evenepoel to sink so fast on Saturday, he was re-surfacing just as quickly.
But when the Soudal-QuickStep racer actually shed Bardet some four kilometres from the finish to go solo for the 49th career victory of his career, his desire to draw a line under what had happened – and ability to do that – could not have been clearer.
“It was a special one, one of the hardest stages I’ve won in terms of climbs, with ascents of more than an hour long and some super-steep gradients, all the things that didn’t go well in the first part of my career. Then, after the disappointment of Saturday, it was really hard to click things over my head,” Evenepoel recounted.
“But the two people who really got me through this difficult situation were my wife and Klaes [Lodewyck, Soudal sports director – Ed.]
“They talked a lot to me because I wasn’t motivated to start anymore; my big goal had disappeared, and there was a lot of disappointment. But the words Oumi said to me, literally, were, ‘Champions always answer with the pedals, and if you do it, do it for me. And that gave me the motivation to go for it today.’
Remco had had the roughest of nights, he said, after the debacle on Friday, to the point where he was waking and sleeping in hour-long spells at most. On top of that, he had a routine early morning anti-doping control on Saturday morning, which he ironically described as “not a nice present.”
“I was quite tired, but I could sleep a bit on the…