This time, everything was in its right place. There were no alarms and no surprises for Soudal-QuickStep in the finale of stage 2 of the Vuelta a San Juan, with Remco Evenepoel delivering a searing shift of pace-making to help tee up Fabio Jakobsen’s sprint victory in Jáchal.
On the opening night of the race, Soudal-QuickStep’s plans had unravelled at a traffic island on the run-in, and when Evenepoel wheeled to a halt beyond the finish, he sought out a commissaire to register his frustration at the configuration of a finale where spectators had occasionally encroached on the road.
There were no such remonstrations from Evenepoel on Monday, just firm handshakes with his Soudal-QuickStep teammates as they complimented one another on a job well done on Jáchal’s Avenida Juan Perón.
Evenepoel, inevitably, was flagged down by reporters for his snap analysis of his team’s first win of the season, but as Jakobsen was being led away to the podium, he paused briefly to put his praise for the world champion on the record.
“Unbelievable, world class,” Jakobsen said. “That’s why he has the jersey.”
Evenepoel is also in Argentina as the defending champion of this very race and he will expect to be to the fore on the decisive climb of Alto Colorado on stage 5, but he didn’t travel halfway around the world simply to stand on ceremony until then. He was again delegated to be Soudal-QuickStep’s fourth-last man here, and once he assumed his position as the locomotive with 3km to go, the direction of travel was ineluctable.
“I think today we showed what our train is capable of and why we came here. We can only be happy and for sure it feels extra good after yesterday’s disappointment,” Evenepoel said.
“The job I had in the train is the one that suits me best. I went from 3km to go and finished with 900 or 800m to go. The guys know that I can pull for quite a long time and I can hurt the other trains behind, because I’m very low on the bike and I don’t catch much of the wind. And then we’re lucky, because we have the best combination to finish it off with [Michael] Mørkov and Jakobsen.”
Sometimes, it can be tempting to write January racing off as a sort of pre-season warm-up, but Evenepoel’s frustration after his misadventure on stage 1 had suggested that every shot at victory counts, even for a world champion with designs on winning the Giro d’Italia later this year.
Evenepoel had been leading the Soudal train when he took the long way around a…