Defending Vuelta a España champion Remco Evenepoel has insisted that given Jumbo-Visma’s strength in numbers on GC, it is only logical that he is playing more of a defensive game at times on the race’s climbs.
The fourth of nine summit finishes in this year’s Vuelta, despite at Laguna Negra de Vinuesa’s testing average gradient of 8% and ramps of up to 14%, the sparks notably failed to fly between the GC favourites.
At the previous mountain top finish of Collado de la Cruz de Caravaca on Sunday, the organisation’s safety-inspired decision to take times on the ascent two kilometres from the finish effectively killed off any desire to launch all but the most minor of attacks.
But on stage 11, barring digs by outsiders Cian Uijtdebroeks (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) and an almost symbolic final acceleration by Evenepoel, closely shadowed by race leader Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), even with the full climb in play, the stage passed off without any attacks.
Clad in the white jersey of Best Young Rider as he did his warm-down on the rollers when one reporter put it to Evenepoel that Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) had expressed surprise there had been no attacks by the Soudal-QuickStep leader, Evenepoel fired back, “That’s good, it seems like we’re a bit unpredictable.”
“I’m not going to attack on every climb and at every opportunity. These guys [Jumbo-Visma] have three riders in the top eight. They are up there, and they have all the cards in our hands.
“So it’s not really up to us. There are still many opportunities to come. They have a super strong team for the high mountains, so it’s going to be a bigger task to follow them than to attack myself. There’s plenty of of time.”
Evenepoel made a similar point when explaining why he had stopped the Soudal-QuickStep team from making the running on the Laguna Negra climb after it initially seemed on the lowers slopes that they were interested in keeping a high tempo on the front. From his point of view, the Belgian squad are not the ones who need to take responsibility at the front of the GC group.
“We were in front, and some guys started to set the pace, and I told them to slow down and stay calm because it’s not up to us to take the race in our hands,” he said.
“I think they were a bit too excited, maybe, but in the end, they listened to me, and in the end, we really calmed it down. It made no sense for us to make that hard pacing.”
As for his final mini-sprint for the…