Vuelta a España: Could Remco Evenepoel get caught out in an ambush? Chris Froome thinks so

Froome lost the 2016 Vuelta after a raid to Formigal, but delivered a stunning reversal to win the 2018 Giro d'Italia.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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JAEN, Spain (VN) — Remco Evenepoel looks to be on cruise control in the Vuelta a España as he pedals into a decisive weekend of climbing stages in southern Spain.

If he hits the final rest day Monday with the leader’s red jersey, only six days stand between the 22-year-old and him becoming the first Belgian grand tour champion since 1978.

Chris Froome, however, warns Evenepoel not to let down his guard.

“A raid? That’s the biggest danger for him in the race, especially after losing a teammate or two,” Froome told VeloNews. “I think it will all come down to the last week.”

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Froome knows all about race-changing ambushes that can turn the GC on its head in the course of just a few hours.

In 2016, Froome was on the receiving end of one of the most famous “raids” in Vuelta history.

Froome on Formigal raid: ‘It’s horrible! It’s horrible!’

Quintana won after Froome was caught out in an ambush. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Tim De Waele/Corbis via Getty Images)

In 2016, the then-Team Sky rider lost what looked to be a lock on a Vuelta crown on the road to Formigal in the Spanish Pyrénées in stage 15.

Nairo Quintana and a band of Spanish riders dropped Froome in the opening kilometers of the stage, and Froome was trapped.

“It’s horrible, it’s horrible!” Froome said. “There’s nothing you can do physically. You might the strongest guy in the race, but you’re racing against 20 guys in the front, you cannot do a thing.”

The famous Formigal ambush saw Froome gapped and dropped when it looked like he had a lock on what would have been his first official Vuelta crown (he was later retroactively awarded the 2011 Vuelta).

The race was turned on its head. Quintana started the race in the lead at 54 seconds ahead of Froome, but with a long individual time trial looming on the penultimate stage, the race seemed destined to turn the favor to Froome against the Colombian.

All that changed in a flash. Quintana and some then-Movistar teammates followed moves by Alberto Contador and other stage-hunters in the opening kilometers that included several rolling hills in the neutral start zone.

That set the stage for the famous “Froomigal” raid. Despite chasing for all his worth on the final climb, Froome saw his deficit to Quintana widen to 3:37, and despite clawing back 2:16 to Quintana in the final time trial, he finished second in Madrid at 1:23 back.

The Formigal raid buried his Vuelta ambitions.

“That was more spontaneous. It was a situation that developed in the first 20km of the stage,” Froome said. “Having the leader’s jersey, I wasn’t in those front positions in the first 20kms, and my rivals took advantage of that.”

Froome famously turned the tables in his favor during the 2018 Giro d’Italia.

That year, Froome was struggling to find his winning legs, and started the 19th stage to Bardonecchia high in the Italian Alps at 3:22 behind race leader Simon Yates.

Midway through the stage, Froome uncorked a long-distance attack on the gravel roads of Colle delle Finestere to gap everyone with 80km to go. Froome drove home alone to win the stage and catapult into the lead by 40 seconds to Tom Dumoulin, with Yates completely blowing up and losing 35 minutes.

Froome won that Giro to give him victories in all three grand tours, but he hasn’t won a grand tour since.

Froome on possible Remco raid: ‘That’s his biggest danger in the race’

Evenepeol will be keeping an eye over his shoulder in the final half of the Vuelta. (Photo: DAVID STOCKMAN/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Froome cautioned there could be something brewing in the final week, especially with some of the climb-heavy stages in Extremadura and in the mountains north of Madrid, the same roads where Fabio Aru up-ended Dumoulin in the 2015 Vuelta.

“Something could happen at some point. I imagine Remco would be on his toes for anything like that,” Froome told VeloNews. “When everyone is on their limits, that’s when something can happen.

“Potentially reduced numbers in the peloton, with COVID as well, I think the last week would be where it’s going to happen. This middle week seems to be the more controllable week for the red jersey.

“That’s the biggest danger for him in the race, especially after losing a teammate or two. I haven’t seen any weakness yet, if he carries on like this, it’s definitely his race.”

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