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The Deceuninck-Quick-Step star left George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) trailing in his wake, leaving the trio to take second through fourth place respectively.
Chaves was the early aggressor on the steep slopes of the Picón Blanco, drawing out Evenepoel and Bennett. The Colombian’s move made the selection, but when 20-year-old Evenepoel jumped, there was no stopping him, said Bennett.
“When Chaves attacked, I didn’t hesitate for a moment, but Evenepoel was just too strong,” he recalled.
Chaves had ridden on the coattails of a strong Mitchelton-Scott train that included illustrious riders such as Simon Yates and Mikel Nieve. However, like, Bennett, Chaves found that team firepower proved futile when Evenepoel made his irresistible move.
“It was an awesome test for everyone. The team did a really awesome job today, we raced like one unit and at the end we attacked from four kilometers to the finish line.” Chaves said. “The final was hard, it is a really hard climb, we tried, but in the end, I finished fourth.”
Evenepoel soloed away to take the victory by a convincing 18 seconds over Bennett, with Chaves a further 17 seconds back. With the likes of Fabio Aru and Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz also in the top 10, Thursday’s ride was the highest-caliber climbing test of Evenepoel’s 18-month WorldTour career.
With a sprint showdown to come Thursday, the final GC will boil down to who can topple the young Belgian and his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team on the summit finish set to close out the race’s final stage Saturday. Matt White, director of Mitchelton-Scott, is targeting a podium position for Chaves but isn’t holding out hopes for the Colombian to take the top step.
“Realistically Remco is going to be very hard to beat,” White said. “If we can move up one place onto the podium that would be a very good result, and Esteban is very familiar with that final climb on the last day.”
Evenepoel’s rivals will now be rallying and looking to not lose time in a flat stage Friday that could see more crosswinds ripping up the peloton. For Chaves, the early mark has been set and he knows the man to beat.
“At the start, it was a question mark for everyone in the peloton about how it would be,” Chaves said. “But now everything is clearer and for Saturday’s final stage it will be different how everyone approaches the final climb.”
There’s a sense it could be all against Evenepoel in the remaining two stages in Spain. The young Belgian is braced and ready for the battle.
“To take both the stage and the leader’s jersey is amazing and we’ll try and keep it until the end, but we won’t rest on our laurels,” Evenepoel said after his victory Thursday. “The race isn’t in the pocket yet, as there are still two stages left, including a hard mountain one, but we’ll continue to give everything.”