Enric Mas glanced over his shoulder within the ending straight and noticed the prepare a-coming quick behind him. Final 12 months in Santiago di Compostela, it was Primoz Roglič, however at the least the race was already over. On Tuesday in Alicante, it was Remco Evenepoel, and there are nonetheless virtually two weeks of the Vuelta a España to come back. A frightening sentence.
Not like on the ultimate time trial of the 2021 Vuelta, Mas at the least managed to fend off the chasing pink jersey on stage 10 of this 12 months’s race, however that was a scant comfort. He conceded just below two minutes to Evenepoel on Tuesday – 1:51, to be exact – and drops to 3rd general, 3:03 off the maillot rojo.
Afterwards, Mas dutifully trotted out the appropriate strains about being happy at limiting his losses on unfavourable terrain, however the issue for him – and for everyone else – is that he has already shipped time to Evenepoel within the excessive mountains too. Up to now, the pink jersey has betrayed no weaknesses. There are nonetheless eleven phases to go, however the Vuelta more and more feels as if it’s Evenpoel’s to lose.
Roglič, who restricted the injury to 48 seconds to maneuver as much as second general, 2:41 behind Evenepoel, confessed that the Belgian is just “on a special degree” to everyone else. Requested if he now needed to depend on Evenepoel enduring an surprising disaster to win a fourth straight Vuelta, Roglič was sometimes imprecise – “We have to look day-to-day” – however he should know that the profitable of the race is successfully out of his palms.
The deficits are forbidding for all of the riders trailing Evenepoel, and issues may but worsen earlier than they get any higher. After leaving his rivals behind on the quick however vertiginous slopes of Les Praeres on Sunday, Evenepoel might nicely do it once more at Peñas Blancas on stage 12 if the temper strikes him.
“If Remco is driving the way in which he’s, then he can journey away,” admitted Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën), eleventh general at 7:46, though Evenepoel himself hinted that he would undertake a extra defensive posture for the rest of the Vuelta. In footballing phrases, Evenepoel has constructed up a hefty benefit within the first half and he can afford to park the bus within the second, even when his default setting is to assault.
The glowing type of Evenepoel has been paired agreeably with the solidity of his QuickStep-AlphaVinyl squad via the primary ten days of the Vuelta. In latest seasons, Patrick Lefevere has progressively been assembling a climbing core round Evenepoel, with Ilan Van Wilder, Louis Vervaeke and Fausto Masnada becoming a member of world champion Julian Alaphilippe and the evergreen Dries Devenyns by his facet right here.
They’ve coped nicely with defending the maillot rojo thus far, regardless of dropping Pieter Serry to COVID-19, and, simply as importantly, few groups have the collective energy to hassle them right here. Roglič, as an example, is with out Sepp Kuss, who deserted via sickness, and although Ineos have appreciable depth with Pavel Sivakov, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richard Carapaz, their best-placed rider Carlos Rodriguez is even youthful and extra callow than Evenepoel – to not point out virtually 5 minutes down on GC.
Mas, second general in 2018 and 2021, has spoken romantically of taking an all or nothing method to this Vuelta, however the mundane realities of his Movistar squad’s battle for WorldTour survival may take priority over any inclinations in the direction of a grand gesture, significantly as Madrid attracts nearer and the necessity for UCI factors turns into better.
Additional down the standings, Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) produced a strong time trial to complete inside a minute of Roglič, however he nonetheless conceded some 1:42 to Evenepoel. Though he moved as much as fifth general, his 4:50 deficit means a podium end is unquestionably his glass ceiling now.
And but, and but. A Grand Tour, as Yates is aware of all too nicely, is a check of endurance. Evenepoel has hit all the appropriate notes up to now, however he should nonetheless maintain a tune all the way in which to Madrid to safe general victory. He’s, by far and on all terrains, the strongest rider on this Vuelta, however he has by no means completed a three-week race earlier than, and there are nonetheless many variables that may sprout up and disrupt the present narrative.
Past the plain occupational hazards corresponding to sickness or damage, the hovering temperatures anticipated within the second week of the race will actual a toll on all the peloton. “It’s filthy on the market, it’s like being in a rainforest,” O’Connor stated of circumstances on the Costa Blanca on Tuesday, and so they gained’t be any much less oppressive in Andalusia within the days forward. “I hope it is going to be cooler within the subsequent few phases, however I do know it gained’t be.”
Above all, there’s a distinctive check awaiting on the finish of the week. Evenepoel has already proven forcefully that he can deal with climbs equal to Peñas Blancas, the finale to stage 12, or La Pandera, which comes two days later. Stage 15, nonetheless, options the one particular class ascent of the Vuelta, the mammoth haul up Sierra Nevada. The ascent is nineteen.4km in size with a median gradient of seven.9%, whereas the end line is perched at some 2,501 metres above sea degree.
Evenepoel, clearly, is the overwhelming favorite, and Roglič, by dint of his place and his pedigree, his most blatant challenger, however O’Connor cautioned in opposition to making any agency predictions till the Vuelta has climbed to its highest level subsequent Sunday afternoon.
“I feel wait till Sierra Nevada, it’s one of many hardest climbs I’ve executed,” O’Connor stated. “I feel wait till then.”