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The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl star was gapped on a hilly final circuit, and gave up 2:12 to new leader Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) to cross the line 28th.
“The heat had something to do with it, but also I felt my legs were getting heavier and heavier in each lap,” Evenepoel said. “Today I didn’t have very good legs, I am not going to say super-bad, but not enough to follow the best guys.”
Evenepoel, 22, dipped to 19th on an explosive stage when the GC favorites were attacking each other for the stage win and for the yellow jersey after the overnight leader was dropped.
“I [did not have] the legs that I need to have for this stage,” Evenepoel said as he sat against a wall on the finish line.
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The Belgian star returned to racing following his Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory at the Tour of Norway last month, when he won the overall thanks to three stage victories.
Evenepoel came into the challenging Swiss tour looking to make the most of the week ahead of a break that will see him detour around the Tour de France, and ramp up later this summer for the Vuelta a España.
“I cannot lose any more time if I want to keep with the best GC guys or have a nice GC at the end of the week,” he said.
With two major mountain stages set for Friday and Saturday, and a 25.6km time trial Sunday to close out the race, Evenepoel is hoping to rebound.
“Of course, there are two super long and hard stages to come,” he said. “I will keep fighting and keep doing my best, and keep the TT in my head, which is very long.”