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The one and only individual time trial at the 2022 Vuelta a España comes into view Tuesday with a 30.9-kilometer test between Elche and Alicante. Coming just 24 hours after the second rest-day in this year’s Vuelta, the ‘race of truth’ could be the most damaging and influential stage of the race so far, with time gaps expected to reach minutes between the main GC contenders.
The prime favorite for the stage is race leader Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) who has been in devastating form since the race left the Netherlands over a week ago. With two second places to his name so far, the young Belgian has not won a stage yet in this year’s race, but that is surely about to change on Tuesday afternoon.
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The Belgian’s record against the clock this season has been phenomenal with nothing lower than a second place and a record in time trials that reads 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st.
In a similar length time trial at the Volta ao Algarve in February, Evenepoel put 58 seconds into his nearest rival and it’s hard to see anyone coming close to him, except for the odd time trial specialist such as Rohan Dennis.
The course is pan-flat, but for a short bump near the finishing kilometers, meaning that this should be a pure power course. Any riders starting the stage cold or with poor legs after the rest day will lose significant time, while the lack of technical sections will ensure that there’s little place for riders to hide if they’re on a bad day.
“The course is completely flat,” the stage favorite told reporters during his rest day press conference.
“Only in the last 3km there is a short climb. That will still be hard because after a thirty minute effort you will be full of lactate. Then it’s a downhill finish. I know the course well, and I’ve done it a lot in training. I’m looking forward to the stage and it’s completely flat. It’s going down more than up.”
With such a one-dimensional profile the main cause for concern could be the conditions. Although no rain is currently forecast, the wind along the Alicante coastline could be a feature.
“It’s a very fast and flat course but it’s super nice,” Luke Plapp from Ineos Grenadiers told VeloNews on Monday afternoon.
“It was pretty windy out there coming off the coast, which caused it to be a bit blowy but it was still really nice. To be honest I think it’s going to be about how everyone’s legs pull up after the first nine days of racing. The conditions will be steady, and it’s not a technical course where you have to make up time on the corners or on the climbs. It’s just about whoever has the legs after the first week. As far as a TT goes in the modern days it’s as straightforward as they get,” the Australian added.
Although all eyes will be on Evenepoel, there will still be a glance towards his main GC rivals. Enric Mas (Movistar), second overall last year, sits at 1:12 and is the Belgian’s closest rival at present. The Spaniard will be hoping to limit his losses, although he proved in last year’s Vuelta that he’s no slouch against the clock when his confidence and form are both high.
Primož Roglič is third, and at 1:53 from the race lead he cannot afford another average performance in this year’s race if he is to hold on to hopes of winning a fourth straight title. If the Slovenian loses over a minute and a half to Evenepoel his defense could be all but over. The reigning champion came into the Vuelta undercooked and Tuesday will be a vital test to see whether he has turned the corner for the second half of the race.
All of Evenepoel’s other rivals are already at over two minutes in arrears and their causes simply depend on limiting their losses and fighting for the top-five at this stage of the race.
This is still only Evenepoel’s second grand tour start, and he is yet to finish a three-week race after abandoning the Giro d’Italia last May. There will be a question mark over his durability all the way through until the final week of this year’s Vuelta but at this point he is the rider to beat and another demonstration of his prowess against the clock will only solidify that opinion. The race does not end on Tuesday afternoon but there’s only so much ground that can be made up after that.
Another subplot to monitor will be the internal battles for leadership at UAE Team Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers. Both teams have two riders inside the top-10 and the pecking order between Carlos Rodriguez and Pavel Sivakov at Ineos and Juan Ayuso and Joao Almeida at UAE has not yet been entirely solidified. The time trial could change that.