Keeping control and not panicking, big challenger Enric Mas took some lead. That was Remco Evenepoel’s assignment in the penultimate stage. With a bonus of 2’07” over the Spaniard, the rider from Schepdaal also had some margin.
It also started well for Evenepoel. In the early flight there was no one from the top ten, but number eleven Louis Meintjes. Which meant that Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl actually got help from BORA-hansgrohe because the top ten place of Giro winner Jai Hindley was in jeopardy. With Alejandro Valverde and Gregor Mühlberger, Movistar had sent two pawns ahead in function of Mas.
Evenepoel started in a seat in the final and had three teammates at his side at the foot of the penultimate climb, the Puerto de la Morcuera, with Ilan Van Wilder, Louis Vervaeke and Fausta Masnada. But they had to come off when Carlos Verona set the pace in function of leader Mas. It went almost three kilometers from the top, but Evenepoel followed quickly. When Mas asked to take over, Evenepoel looked him straight in the eye, shrugging. Totally not impressed. After an acceleration of number three Juan Ayuso, he set the pace to the top himself. He came up with an elite group two minutes from the three leaders Sergio Higuita, Richard Carapaz and Louis Meintjes.
Another obstacle could throw a spanner in the works: the final climb Puerto de Cotos. But Evenepoel had everything under control and the opposition was mainly concerned with the places of honour. Sprinting for the stage victory was just out of the question, because Richard Carapaz held on to the top and in the last remaining six flat kilometers to the finish the top riders looked at each other. Only Thymen Arensman made another attempt, but stranded within a few seconds. And Evenepoel crossed the finish line smiling and with clenched fists. With a lead of 2’05” (he gave up two seconds at the finish) he will start on Sunday in the final stage, a glorified criterium in Madrid. The Vuelta is inside.
Evenepoel dominated this Vuelta. He took the red jersey after the sixth stage, arriving at Pico Jano, and he never gave it up. In the two mountain stages last weekend he lost some time, according to him mainly due to stiff muscles after his fall a few days earlier. After that he was authoritarian again and he put the finishing touches with a win on Thursday in the mountain stage to Alto de Piornal. His second stage win after his demonstration in the time trial to Alicante in the tenth stage. On the podium on Sunday he will also wear the white youth jersey in addition to the red leader’s jersey. On the final podium he is flanked by two Spaniards: Enric Mas and 19-year-old Juan Ayuso.
The overall victory in the Vuelta will be his 36th professional win for Evenepoel. This season he is already at fourteen, including Clasica San Sebastian (for the second time) and especially Liège-Bastogne-Liège, his first monument.
Revenge for Giro
The Vuelta win is also a nice revenge for the disappointment in the Giro last year. He went to Italy with ambitions, but after his heavy rehabilitation after his fall in a ravine in the Tour of Lombardy and the accompanying lack of competition rhythm, he cracked halfway. He also later gave up after a fall. As a result, Evenepoel immediately wins the first big round that he finishes.
Evenepoel will leave Madrid on Monday via Dubai to Sydney, Australia, where he will make a double attempt at the world title in Wollongong. The first time on Sunday 18 September in the individual time trial and a week later in the road race, where he shares the Belgian leadership with Wout van Aert.