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Evenepoel was dropped when the pace surged in the 20 percent gradients at the top of the Zoncolan ascent Saturday, ceding another 1:30 to Egan Bernal to slip to eighth overall, nearly four minutes back.
“I felt that my legs were running out of energy when we hit the steepest parts of the ascent,” Evenepoel said Saturday. “I lost time again, but I still am in the top-10, which is a good thing, and will continue to fight every day.”
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) May 22, 2021
Although Evenepoel was not able to match the fearsome accelerations of Bernal and Simon Yates on the steepest slopes of Saturday’s mountaintop finish, the grand tour rookie was able to limit his losses.
“I felt my long break today,” Evenepoel said. “When the power isn’t there, it’s just the way things go, and today I knew I would suffer in those last three kilometers, where the most explosive gradients were. Considering everything, losing 1:30 is not that bad.”
With Bernal rampant and Evenepoel on the ropes when the action heated up on the Montalcino gravel stage and again Saturday, the dream match-up between the sport’s two young stars is definitively over.
Evenepoel said that he’ll continue pushing through to Milano next weekend, but that his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team should refocus its resources. After cracking in the wet and wild fourth stage last week, João Almeida has returned to form and provides the team another option.
“I’ll try to fight for that every day, but the boys shouldn’t really be concerned with me anymore,” Evenepoel said. “Someone like João has freedom to race for a breakaway. I felt today that it is getting harder and tougher and that the long break is taking hold.”
Sport director Klaas Lodewyck added that Evenepoel may head in a similar direction to Almeida now a top-three is long in the memory.
With Evenepoel still showing promise, Deceuninck-Quick-Step is considering allowing the 21-year-old to lose further time so that the bunch gives him the room to move into the breakaways.
“We’ll first see how he feels after today tonight,” Lodewyck said Saturday. “He rode well and climbed with a good group.”
Whatever the Quick-Step crew decides for Evenepoel, it’s likely that he won’t go down without a fight.
“The podium will be difficult for Remco now, but we knew that beforehand,” Lodewyck told Sporza. “I think Remco dreamed of it himself. We started here without expectations, but Evenepoel is of course a winner. He wants to do it as well as possible.”