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The Catalan tour put Roglič and Evenepoel center stage in a series of sizzling mountain duels and bonus-point sprints that left the twosome almost inseparable.
It’s a GC match-up that tracks back through last year’s Itzulia Basque Country and Vuelta a España, and brings narratives of youth vs age, a new stage-race ace vs an established powerhouse, and so much more.
It’s a rivalry with all the promise of Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour de France, or Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert everywhere else.
- Evenepoel bounds toward Giro d’Italia with more gains to come after UAE Tour victory
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“I think we’re showing that we’re equally level and it will be a nice battle at the Giro d’Italia if we keep this shape,” Evenepoel said after another full-blooded bout Saturday. “But of course, some others will improve.”
Giro-bound grand tour warhorse Geraint Thomas saw the start of his season derailed by illness, leaving his teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart or UAE Team Emirates racer João Almeida as good bets for a spot on the final Italian podium.
But there seems no doubt that Roglič and Evenepoel have become pink jersey favorites six weeks out from the Grande Partenza.
— Volta a Catalunya (@VoltaCatalunya) March 24, 2023
After they scooped prestigious WorldTour wins at the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico respectively, Evenepoel and Roglič turned up in Catalunya looking for a final stage racing tune-up.
But just like how Pogačar and Vingegaard raced Paris-Nice, there’s no easy racing in the WorldTour.
“I’m testing myself,” Evenepoel said Saturday. “I’ve come from altitude, so I want to test how the legs are and race and improve toward the Giro. I feel I’m not 100 percent, I’m just in a good shape. There are still small details with weight etc I can look at to improve my shape.”
‘Riding against Remco is never boring’
A climbing deadlock on Lo Port amid a week of Catalan summit sprints brewed into a little on-road polemica Saturday when Roglič refused to cooperate in Evenepoel’s attempted stage-winning raid.
Evenepoel was seen shouting and gesticulating toward the Slovenian in a bid to get a pull as they charged into Molins de Rei. It’s an incident that was later downplayed but remains an encounter that adds a little depth to what looks set to become a rich Giro ragu in May.
#Replay 🎥 / #VoltaCatalunya102 🇪🇸
L’une des images du jour : 🇧🇪 Remco Evenepoel (SOQ) qui demande des relais à 🇸🇮 Primoz Roglic (TJV) qui adresse une fin de non-recevoir : “Please come on !” pic.twitter.com/KFT1X4N1Wd
— Renaud Breban (@RenaudB31) March 25, 2023
“The end of the stage was a real show,” Roglič said Saturday. “Riding against Remco is never boring. We were expecting something, and we were on guard when he attacked.”
Roglič and Evenepoel will take the gloves off a while after Catalunya’s final circuit stage of Barcelona.
Roglič isn’t slated to race again before the Giro rolls out of the Abruzzo, while Evenepoel will only see a start line for Brabantse Pijl and his Liège-Bastogne-Liège defense.
Evenepoel branded Roglič – who, like him, has won the Vuelta, Liège, and a big bunch of time trials – as his “idol” Saturday.
It doesn’t look like there will be much hero-worshipping in Italy later this month.