Did Remco Evenepoel’s victory salute cost him the lead at Volta a Catalunya?

World champion didn't seemed too upset that he missed out on the leader's jersey with another hard mountain summit finale still to come.

Photo: PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

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Remco Evenepoel was ecstatic to win Wednesday’s hard-fought third stage at the Volta a Catalunya after a stinging attack gapped nemesis and soon-to-be Giro d’Italia rival Primož Roglič.

So much so that his finish-line victory salute might have cost him the leader’s jersey.

After missing out on victory two days in a row, the world champion was determined to be first across the line in the brutal climbing stage across the Spanish Pyrénées.

Soudal Quick-Step set a brutal pace over an hors-categorie summit midway through the stage, and Evenepoel attacked the front group with about 4km to go to the Cat. 1 summit finale at La Molina. Only Roglič could follow, and Evenepoel gapped him with a pointed acceleration to win.

“I had super, super legs today, and I was confident the team could do the job that they did,” Evenepoel said. “The climb before La Molina was long and hard, and we went above 2,000 meters, so we wanted to make it as hard as possible from that climb on. It paid off.”

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Roglič never pulled once, and he could not answer when Evenepoel jumped going into a final switchback with about 300 meters to go.

The Soudal Quick-Step superstar savored the moment of his first European win in 2023, and posted up with both arms in the air with a few meters left to go. In his wake, Jumbo-Visma’s Roglič kept pressing all the way to the line.

Did his victory salute cost him the leader’s jersey? It might have.

The race jury were generous at counting only two seconds between Evenepoel and the trailing Roglič, and when the time bonuses were added up, they stood tied on time.

Roglič, who won the opening stage and was also second Tuesday, keeps the leader’s based on tie-break rules.

Had Evenepoel sprinted all the way to the line, he might have taken back another second to put him into the leader’s jersey in the important week-long stage race.

Belgians have a colorful expression for such what-might-have-been questions, and Evenepoel was more than happy to win for the first time on European roads in 2023 in his world champion’s season.

“It’s a pity I have my young rider’s jersey because I would like to make the picture with my rainbows, but the next race maybe,” he said. “I knew that I was fast and really wanted to go for it, so I made sure of being first into the last corner and kept pushing. It’s a victory that makes me happy and only adds to our motivation for the next stages.”

The Volta is the only stage race where Evenepoel and Roglič with square off before the 2023 Giro, and the pair is lighting up the seven-stage race so far that’s packed with Giro-bound contenders.

So far, Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segafredo), a winner Tuesday and third overall at 19 seconds adrift, is able to stay close.

After winning a stage and the overall at the UAE Tour, Evenepoel trained on Spain’s Teide volcano where he set a new Strava record on one of the steepest roads on the flanks of the popular training mountain.

Evenepoel was pipped Monday and fell short Tuesday, and was bent on being first Wednesday.

“I made a big mistake being too far back in the sprint on the first stage, but today I showed I am pretty fast as well,” Evenepoel said. “I expect a nice battle Friday. We should save our energy Thursday, but today we showed we are a really strong team. We will take the responsibility Friday and try to win the stage again.”

Evenepoel will have a chance to punch into the leader’s jersey in Friday’s 176.6km fifth stage Tortosa to Lo Port, ending with a steep, HC climb to Mirador del Portell (8.6km at 8.8%).

With the GC knotted up going into Thursday’s transition stage, time bonuses could prove decisive all the way to the circuit-course finale on Montjuic in Barcelona on Sunday.

If the overall is still on the line going into this weekend, everyone will be holding off their celebrations until they’re safely across the line.

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