The Belgian remains at the top of the GC after a hard and sweltering hot day in Sierra Nevada.
Remco Evenepoel defended himself superbly on the highest summit finish of the season, which featured at the end of stage 15 and took the riders at an altitude of 2512 meters, all the way to the top of the Sierra Nevada climb. Considered by many as being the hardest day of La Vuelta, stage 15 threw two hard climbs into the GC favourites way, but Remco didn’t flinch for a single moment despite the continuous pressure the other riders applied on him and kept the red jersey firmly on his shoulders.
The race got off to another crazy start on Sunday afternoon, and when a breakaway was finally established, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl had two delegates in the 28-man group: Fausto Masnada and Louis Vervaeke. Behind them, things remained quiet until the first classified climb, Alto del Purche, where a sudden injection of pace at the front of the peloton thinned out the group while eating into the escapees’ four-minute advantage.
Evenepoel found himself isolated, but only for a brief moment, as on the descent he linked up with Masnada, who in the meantime had slowed down and dropped out from the bunch. A group of around 50-60 men arrived at the bottom of the 22.3km Sierra Nevada climb, where things exploded in the first 500 meters on the viciously steep 20% gradient.
Immediately, Remco took to the front of the select group that emerged, showing his strength and determination as the others just sat on. The Belgian did the work until 14 kilometers to go, when Louis Vervaeke – who had been in the breakaway – took over and dug deep for his teammate, allowing the red jersey to keep his strength for the final part of this mammoth climb.
The 22-year-old produced an enormous effort, and at the same time a huge display of panache, to keep things under control, and even when three of his rivals jumped away and gained time as they got closer to the top, he remained as cool as a cucumber and made sure the elastic wouldn’t be snapped decisively, demonstrating his capacity for performing under pressure. At the finish line, only 15 seconds separated Remco from his nearest rival, which means that he will enter the third week of the race with an advantage of more than a minute and a half over the next rider in the standings.
“This morning I felt the legs were better than on Saturday, so I remained calm and confident the entire time even as the others were pushing that furious pace at the bottom of the last ascent. It was the first time in my career that I finished at this altitude and I kept fighting and pushing when the others tried to make things difficult for me. Remaining calm and confident was important, and I can be content with how things went, as I didn’t lose too much time.”
“Now it will be important to recover for the final week of the race and keep a fresh mindset for the remaining stages. My advantage is still a good one, the team continues to do an extraordinary work – you could see that again today – and we keep the same morale and motivation”, said the first Belgian rider in 44 years to lead a Grand Tour for ten consecutive days.
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