Vuelta a España: Remco Evenepoel bends but does not crack on arrival at the top of La Pandera

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JAEN, Spain (VN) — Remco Evenepoel suffered on the upper part of the La Pandera climb to give up time for the first time, but courageously defended the red jersey on Saturday at the Vuelta a España.

The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl leader gave up 48 seconds and time bonuses to his direct rival Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) after the Slovenian attacked about 4km from the finish.

Evenepoel folded but didn’t crack, and he saw his lead over Roglič shrink from 2:41 to 1:49.

“It was definitely not my best day, I didn’t have the best legs,” Evenepoel said. “I couldn’t accelerate when Roglič left.”

Everyone in the peloton wondered if Evenepoel was going to be able to hold the legs for three full weeks.

He showed a bit of hesitation on Saturday just as the Vuelta hit two full weeks of racing.

“Today was one of the toughest days we’ve had in this Vuelta so far, as it was a fast and tough start, and it took 80km to break,” said Evenepoel. “In the end, I lacked the freshness to follow the best. We could control the damage pretty well, so nothing too big to worry about. On the way to tomorrow.

The 22-year-old Belgian shrugged off an accident on Thursday and returned to racing without gloves in Saturday’s scorcher in southern Spain, but admitted the aftermath of the spill hit him when the attacks took hold started flying on the steepest part of La Pandera.

“I have sore muscles, but it should be gone tomorrow or after the rest day,” Evenepoel said. “Of course it’s the second day after the accident and it’s often the day you don’t feel really well. I’m not going to use that as an excuse.

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Jumbo-Visma was setting up the attack, first with Robert Gesink and then Chris Harper taking big draws up front.

Roglič jumped up and pulled a 10-second gap over Evenepoel, who didn’t immediately cover the wheel. Smelling blood, Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López also dropped Evenepoel.

Evenepoel was isolated and others began to assault him, but in his first major test since snatching the red jersey last week, Evenepoel stood tall.

“I could see the other guys rolling in front of me, and when I heard Mas was let go from Roglič, I kept pushing until the final,” Evenepoel said. “On big climbs like this, it’s man against man. Today we lost a small battle, but we didn’t lose the big battle, so nothing big.

The young Belgian does not panic and fights to limit his losses.

“I think I’ve already taken longer on other finishes like Les Praeres,” Evenepoel said. “I still have a 1:50 lead in the general classification, so nothing to really panic about. I will try to recover as much as possible and survive tomorrow.

Evenepoel said the most important thing was not to go into the red while chasing to keep Roglič and the others on a leash.

“I’m not worried, because I also gained a lot of time on the others before in this Vuelta. Today it was my turn to waste time. For three weeks you can have a bad day, and today was my turn,” Evenepoel said. “It’s the life of a grand tour.”

With the Sierra Nevada and its monstrous climb looming on the horizon, Evenepoel tried to put a positive spin on Saturday’s losses.

“I just didn’t have my best legs today. I hope that was my bad day for those three weeks,” he said. “Today, the time I lost, I already lost it to others. It’s the normal story, you give time, you waste time. That’s why it’s three weeks , not a week. I’m not too worried and I think I can plan a little more effort tomorrow because I know the climb very well.

“It’s a completely different finish tomorrow. It’s another day. We still have a big lead, so it’s always about defending.

Van Wilder: ‘No need to panic. He didn’t waste 15 minutes’

Ilan Van Wilder said there was “no need to panic”. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Evenepoel’s teammates rally around their GC captain, and Ilan Van Wilder took the final pulls up front right before Roglič clearly accelerated.

“We don’t have to panic. I think Roglič also lost time during this Vuelta, so it may happen one day to have less legs,” said Van Wilder. “It’s not a big deal. Remco kept pace and lost some time. That’s nothing to worry about.”

Van Wilder, 22, is becoming one of Evenepoel’s most reliable assistants in the mountains. With Pieter Serry out with COVID-19 and Julian Alaphilippe collapsing, there is more pressure on the rest of the squad.

The Belgian youngster said Evenepoel didn’t panic in that tense moment.

“Remco said he felt good, and I think Roglič had great legs today on the climb,” he said. “I was doing a solid pace, and I saw he attacked. Normally Remco could be behind the wheel and he had to wait. It was a sign that he was a little less this time, but he was still good. .

“He didn’t waste 15 minutes, a few seconds, that’s not bad.”

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