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Evenepoel showed no signs of damage from a crash Thursday, and made it safely through Friday’s transition stage across Spain’s “sea of olives” clutching onto his hard-earned race leader’s jersey.
With summit finishes stacked up Saturday and Sunday in the sun-baked mountains of southern Spain, Evenepoel is showing no signs of easing his grip on the Vuelta.
“The goal number one is to keep jersey, just how we have it now,” Evenepoel said Friday. “The climbs are more regular and not as steep. It’s going to be a big weekend for us.”
Also read: Can Quick-Step defend Remco’s red jersey?
Evenepoel is showing no signs of stress or pressure as he pedals ever closer to becoming Belgium’s first grand tour winner since 1978.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl sport director Davide Bramati said Evenepoel is handling the pressure well despite his young 22 years.
“Remco is calm, and he’s staying focused on the racing,” Bramati said after Friday’s stage. “The team is rallying around him, and everyone is supporting him. The most important thing is to make it through each day, and not look too far ahead.”
Also read: Chris Froome says Evenepoel ‘racing smart’
There’s a growing sense in the peloton that if Evenepoel doesn’t crack this weekend the Vuelta could be his.
Two-time Vuelta winner Chris Froome said as much, telling VeloNews that if Evenepoel doesn’t suffer a major breakdown, it could be challenging for anyone to crack him before Madrid.
Evenepoel braces for double-whammy climbing weekend at Vuelta
This weekend’s pair of mountain stages will give his rivals a chance.
Saturday’s stage ends atop the short but steep La Pandera summit, known for its heat and steep ramps. Sunday climbs above 2000m to Sierra Nevada, one of Europe’s longest and highest climbs on high terrain where Evenepoel remains untested.
Evenepoel knows that if he can defend his lead of 2:41 to Primož Roglič and 3:03 to Enric Mas over the weekend, he will overcome a major hurdle on the road back to Madrid, where the Vuelta ends on September 11.
“It’s two days full out, then a rest day, and then a sprint stage. That would bring us really far toward our goal, which is to keep the jersey,” Evenepoel said. “It’s going to be quite an important weekend, but next week will have very important mountain stages as well.”
Evenepoel showed no signs of wear and tear following Thursday’s high-speed spill when his front tire slipped out on dusty and slippery roads. He slammed to the ground, but was able to bounce back with little more than a few cuts and scrapes.
Looking ahead to this weekend, Evenepoel’s growing confidence is checked by moderation. He doesn’t want to take any unnecessary risks, especially with more than a full week of racing left.
He also doesn’t want to let an opportunity slip through his fingers if he is feeling as good this weekend as he did last week across northern Spain, when he rode the entire peloton off his wheel.
“The most important thing is to ride in the defensive mode, and not be too crazy,” he said Friday. “If I have the legs and I am in a situation to attack and gain some time, I will try to grab it.”