Reigning Vuelta a España champion Remco Evenepoel has reached the first rest day of the 2023 race in about as good a position as he could’ve hoped, slightly ahead of all his major rivals for the red jersey after nine days of racing.
The Belgian, who held the race lead for three days last week, came through another challenging day on stage 9 to the summit finish at Collado de la Cruz de Caravaca largely unscathed. A two-second time loss to close rival Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) was a minor setback during a chaotic day of racing.
Due to adverse conditions, including mud on the road, at the finish, GC times were taken 2.05km from the finish line, meaning the top contenders could soft pedal their way up the super-steep gradients towards the top of the day’s final climb.
Evenepoel, who shed 32 seconds to Roglič on the Alto de Javalambre on Thursday, said that coming through the chaos of the finish and the multiple echelons that marked the stage meant that it was a “very good day” for him.
“This was a very good day for me. The echelons went pretty well for us. We set the rhythm well and just had to follow,” he told Belgian media after the stage.
“There was another small attack by Roglič, but I didn’t really lose time there.”
The Soudal-QuickStep leader, who has five seconds on Roglič and 11 on Jonas Vingegaard heading into Monday’s rest day, said that he couldn’t quite follow the Slovenian’s late burst towards the GC ‘finish line’ due to the slippery conditions.
“I wanted to go but I slipped for a moment, so I wasn’t on the right track,” he said. “I don’t know how much [the gap] was, but I must have arrived at almost the same time – I was pretty much in the wheel.
“The last kilometre was impossible. I was already sliding on the uphill, so the downhill wasn’t going to end well. That just wasn’t safe, I guess.”
The world time trial champion can now look forward to the flat 25.8km time trial in Valladolid on Tuesday, where he’ll be the favourite to take time on his red jersey rivals.
Evenepoel’s first week has seen him start well in the team time trial, outpace his rivals on the first summit finish in Andorra, and control the GC group on the steep slopes of Xorret de Catí. The time loss on Javalambre is his only disappointment from nine days of racing.
“It’s a pity I had the one bad day, due to the after-effects of my injury. When I see it now, we have already dominated the final climb of a stage twice. Apart from two men [Roglič and Vingegaard – Ed.], the…