Our team was prominent from start to finish on stage 20.
Remco Evenepoel was separated by mere centimeters from another victory on the penultimate day of the season’s final Grand Tour. One of the best riders of the year, the only Belgian to have conquered three summit finish at a single edition of a Grand Tour and the winner of the 2022 Vuelta a España, Evenepoel featured in his fifth breakaway of the past three weeks on the longest stage of the race.
Together with Mattia Cattaneo, James Knox and Louis Vervaeke, Remco was in a large 30-man breakaway that after a frantic start, managed to put eleven minutes between them and the red jersey group in the hills outside Madrid – a terrain that at past editions ended up changing the general classification. It wasn’t the case this time, the spotlight being on the fight for victory on the course which took in ten classified climbs, for a vertical gain of almost 4400 meters.
Soudal Quick-Step’s riders did a phenomenal job the entire day, shutting down all the attacks that came before the last ascent and setting a steady tempo at the front for the KOM jersey. When Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) and three other men went clear on the steepest part of the Alto de San Lorenzo El Escorial, the Belgian still had Cattaneo with him, who made sure those up the road would remain within reach. Once the Italian’s job was finished, Evenepoel took off and with relative ease joined the leaders on the descent.
The five men worked well together and Remco entered the final kilometer in a good position, but Poels surprised everyone by opening his sprint with around 400 meters to go. The defending champion had the speed to come back, and for a moment there it looked like he would prevail, but the line came too soon for him, so in the end he had to settle for second – his sixth podium at this edition of La Vuelta.
“It was a hard stage, but we did our best. Mattia, James and Louis were amazing, pulling the whole stage and working tirelessly for me. I felt good and was confident in my sprint going in the closing kilometer of the stage, but Poels surprised us all by starting his sprint from afar, while I reacted a bit too late. I tried to make up ground, but despite having the speed, I ran out of road. Despite everything, I don’t have any regrets. Now I’m looking forward to Madrid and to one last ride with the boys here”, said Remco, who moved up to 12th on the general classification after this penultimate stage.
Photo credit: ©Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images