Remco Evenepoel celebrated his third Vuelta a España stage victory with the latest demonstration of a spectacular comeback by tapping the side of his helmet to show, as he put it, ‘that I’m kind of mentally unbreakable’.
The Belgian has certainly demonstrated a huge degree of resilience after his GC bid in the Vuelta went up in smoke on the Tourmalet stage last week, taking a spectacular lone victory on the Bonaigua the following day, then making it into breaks to Lekunberri on stage 15 and then again en route to the Angliru on Wednesday.
That kind of turnaround has always made a major demand on his physical strength of course, but at the Alto de la Cruz de Linares on Thursday, Evenepoel wanted to show there was a mental aspect to it as well.
By taking off on the second last ascent of the category 1 climb, and then soloing to victory, Evenepoel has now racked up 50 career wins, claimed more triumphs – three – than any other rider in the 2023 Vuelta and is also now mathematically guaranteed to maintain his lead in the mountains ranking all the way to Madrid.
However, ‘tall trees catch the most wind’ is a Belgian saying and while Evenepoel’s response on the bike to a massive degree of media and public expectations could hardly be bettered, his tapping his helmet was a way of showing what he had needed to do that.
“I made that sign to show to everybody that mentally I’m kind of unbreakable. It’s always easy to pull somebody down but I showed my head is pretty strong, I have a super-strong team and a super-strong wife, and they help me be unbreakable,” he said.
His other gesture, forming the letter ‘O’ with his fingers as he crossed the line, was certainly no less important in the bigger scheme of things.
“That was for Oumi, my wife. She said if I took a third victory, I had to dedicate it to her,” he said, before explaining the reasons why he had attacked so far from the line.
“I felt like I was the strongest in the group and didn’t have to waste time,” he said, referring to his ability to drop all 16 of his fellow breakaway companions. “I just needed to go for it, my legs were super good, and I had a better day, like on stage 14 [to the Bonaigua].
“It’s another amazing stage to win, I took all the points for my jersey, and it’s amazing to end the Vuelta like this.”
Win number 3 in the Vuelta is win number 50 in Evenepoel’s career tally, and the Belgian first joked that as he would have no chance of victory on…