The Belgian came close to his second victory of the race.
Xorret de Cati (3.9km, 11.4%), the lung-bursting climb that propelled Julian Alaphilippe to his first Grand Tour stage victory six years ago, returned at the Vuelta, again in the first week, just before the race’s third summit finish. The last hurdle of the day, Xorret de Cati brought not just some inhuman ramps, but also a remarkable display of strength and confidence from Remco Evenepoel under immense pressure.
A small group led by the Soudal Quick-Step boys arrived at the bottom of the ascent, just a couple of seconds behind the day’s breakaway, who was easily caught by Mattia Cattaneo and Louis Vervaeke, paving the way for the battle of the GC men. The first to move was Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), but Remco remained calm and just upped the pace without getting out of the saddle on the steep slopes that at times reached 20%, pushing a tempo that brought back the US rider while at the same time prevented his two teammates from launching an attack of their own.
Evenepoel continued to lead the group over the top of the climb and onto the descent, and even had something left after all this incredible effort to sprint and take a solid runner-up, a result that brought him six bonus seconds. Following this impressive ride, the Belgian Champion moved up to sixth on the overall standings, with one stage to go before the first rest day of the race.
“I told my team today that I needed them to go full gas in the first kilometer of Xorret de Cati, and that after I would ride my own tempo. I felt good during the stage. When Kuss went, I didn’t panic and gradually pulled him back, knowing there were another eight or ten minutes of climbing left. Then, in the sprint, I finished second, which is quite a pity, as I really believe I could have won, but the thing is I thought there was still a rider in front. It was a communication problem and it’s frustrating, but it is as it is”, explained Remco after his 21st top three of the season.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images