Ahead of two tough days in the mountains at the Vuelta a España, race leader Remco Evenepoel has said that if he sees an opportunity to attack, he will not let it go.
Both Saturday and Sunday’s stages feature more than 3500 metres of climbing, and therefore could be crucial in the battle for general classification. Evenepoel of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl currently has 28 seconds over Enric Mas (Movistar), his nearest GC challenger and 1-01 over Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), the three-time defending champion.
Speaking after the end of a relatively calm stage seven, for GC riders anyway, the Belgian said: “First of all defence, it’s pretty clear that we don’t want to lose the jersey, so getting out of the weekend is the main aim.
“There are actually two different really climbs, Saturday is around a 30 minute finish, and Sunday around 15 minutes. Both are really steep climbs, but I don’t know, tomorrow is a longer stage, Sunday is a shorter stage, so it all depends on how the climbs will be ridden. I think Saturday’s will be harder than Sunday.”
Saturday features six categorised climbs, included a first category summit finish to Colláu Fancuaya, while Sunday has five, with another first category finish, Les Praeres. Nava.
While Evenepoel built his lead after attacking on stage six, it is his defensive strategy that will now be tested, along with his team. Quick-Step might be serial winners, but are inexperienced at leading Grand Tours, as are Belgians – Saturday will be the first time this century that someone from Belgium has worn the red jersey on two consecutive days.
Friday was an easy introduction to leading a Grand Tour, something Evenepoel is doing for the first time, despite nine GC wins on his palmarés.
“It was a perfect scenario because the other teams controlled the race, and we didn’t have to do anything,” the 22-year-old explained. “Everybody could try to recover from yesterday’s race, and in the end, everybody were doing well.
“We were in control, and we were relaxed. It’s a pity for the teams working in the bunch that they could not catch the breakaway, but in the front, there was a really strong group that could stay away. It was quite a good day for us.”
As for the coming stages, Evenepoel said: “We will see tomorrow. I have a nice advantage now, so I will also be happy just to keep this time gap over the others. Of course, if there is an opportunity I will not let it go.
“It’s a tricky race, and going into the time trial with an advantage would be better than going into the time trial from behind.”
Stage 10 is a 30.9km time trial to Alicante, something that Evenepoel would usually be confident in doing well in, but following two tough mountain stages, it might be different.