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Racing with a bloodied knee and a torn jersey, the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider brushed off a potentially dangerous spill late in Thursday’s 12th stage to drill down his rivals on Peñas Blancas to defend his lead at the Vuelta.
“It didn’t affect me at all. I felt really fresh again today after yesterday’s more easy day,” Evenepoel said. “Crashes are a part of cycling, so tried to deal with it as relaxed as possible and as calm as possible.”
The crash was Evenepoel’s biggest scare since roaring into the Vuelta’s red jersey last week in northern Spain.
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Evenepoel said he slipped out on dusty and oil-slicked roads in southern Spain, which are notoriously sketchy as oil, dust, and gunk can build up after weeks or sometimes months without rain.
“I think the south of Spain is known for slippery roads when it’s not wet,” Evenepoel said. “When I saw my hand, my arm and my leg, they were completely black so there must have been a lot of oil and grease on the road.
“I think it was a bit of a typical crash, a bit the same as Julian had yesterday, but that’s life,” he said. “I just could not doing anything, the front wheel went off and at such a speed you cannot control it, but that’s cycling life.”
Evenepoel, who was later seen gesturing to a race commissaire, was forced to change bikes and quickly regained contact with the GC group before the final charge up the Peñas Blancas summit.
“The guys took care of me immediately, we did quite a relaxed bike change, tried to get in the front again and keep doing our job,” he said. “I just had to make a click in my head as fast as possible and keep focusing on our goal today and that was not losing time I think we managed very well to do that.”
Once back in the race, Evenepoel was cool under fire.
Jumbo-Visma and then Movistar piled on during the long, grinding Peñas Blancas climb. Enric Mas and Primož Roglič couldn’t come around Evenepoel as he drove toward the line on the upper reaches of the climb.
— Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team (@qst_alphavinyl) September 1, 2022
Evenepoel matched the pace, and then took over at the front in the closing kilometers. He even kicked up a bit to try to gap his rivals in the closing meters.
“The last 2K I actually don’t know what happened behind me,” he said. “I think Enric Mas looks really strong, he some teammates in front like a typical Movistar way of racing, putting guys in front and then attacking towards them.
“That actually made it really hard to pace the climb, we were going fast, slowing down, going fast, slowing down,” he said. “I just put a high pace and then in the last 250m, I just put my last effort, a kind of sprint towards the finish line to see what the damage could be with some of the guys.
“It was up to us for a bit, so I think we are definitely not laying under the other teams, talking about climbing performances or climbing teams.”
Evenepoel: ‘We have a good medical team’
Evenepoel suffered some minors cuts and scrapes to his hands, elbow, and hip, but otherwise was not seriously injured.
Impacts from crashes are usually felt more so in the days after the incident, but Evenepoel showed no signs of injury when it counted Thursday.
He’s hopeful there won’t be any complications as he pedals toward a decisive weekend of climbing stages across southern Spain.
“We have a good medical team here with us, so they will take care of me,” he said. “That’s something I’m really sure of so I’m not going to stress about my injuries, because that’s all energy I would lose that I will need in the finals of the mountain stages.”
Evenepoel is trying to become the first Belgian grand tour winner since 1978, and a minor crash isn’t going to stop him in his tracks.