Just over an hour after winning his first ever Grand Tour stage and extending his lead in the Vuelta a España, Remco Evenepoel took his seat in the press conference and appeared shocked. Clatter. Bang.
Something had fallen and caused a noise. He looked around, confused as to the sound, puzzled as to what it was. “Ah, there is it,” he said. The Garmin that he had been cradling ever since he convincingly won stage 10’s time trial had left his possession, tumbling onto the floor.
He picked it up, blew off whatever dirt had settled on it, and started playing with it, checking it was still functioning. For a brief moment, he seemed concerned. “Ah, no, it’s OK. It’s ok. It’s alive,” he reassured himself out loud.
It was the only time all day he had let anything drop out of his control. The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider is dominating this Vuelta, and is not letting anything get in his way as he seeks to win a Grand Tour at only his second try.
Not even his fiancé, Oumaima, is permitted to get close to him. “She had two exams in the last few days and arrived this morning really early, but I didn’t see her, only very quickly at the podium,” the 22-year-old said. “Being careful with Covid, we’re not gonna come really close to each other. We will say hello in the open air, but I will try to stay in the team’s bubble as much as possible.”
His wife-to-be wasn’t the only family member watching on as Evenepoel cruised to victory. “My parents, grandparents, lots of family and friends,” he reeled off, forgetting the sizeable fan club also present in a hot and very humid Alicante. “I could definitely feel the support on the bike, even while not seeing them, ” he said. “I could feel them in my head and my legs.”
This part of Spain has become a second home to Evenepoel, the Belgian spending several weeks a year training in both the hills and flat roads around Alicante.
In the past few months he had ridden the 31km time trial on four occasions, ensuring that he knew every metre of the course as well as he could. This is what Remco Evenepoel does: he commits to a goals intensely, thereby reducing the probability of an unwanted result, such as defeat.
“In training I was close to the area so I wanted to ride on the course,” he said. “It was to get a feeling for how fast the course would be, what gears I would take on my bike and stuff like that.
“Doing this TT three or four times in advance definitely has an advantage compared to only doing it once this morning.”
The race now enters its second half with Evenepoel boasting a lead of 2-41 over defending champion Primož Roglič. It would be foolish in a three-week race to suggest that Evenepoel has the win wrapped up, but he would be lying if he tried to pretend he wasn’t in a very favourable position.
“I have to say, yes, it’s a big lead,” he said. “I have a good feeling. We will try to keep this red jersey as long as possible, try to keep a really good spot in the GC. Ah, I prefer to say as high as possible.
“So far our Vuelta has been successful – there is no stress anymore about a stage win and we can focus on relaxing and controlling the race.
“I feel very well in myself and the team is performing very strong. Everyone is in a good mood, feeling happy. I’m happy with what I am showing and feeling for now, and I hope I can maintain this level for the rest of the Vuelta.”
He stood up again, his Garmin safely in his hand. He wasn’t going to let it drop again, just like he probably won’t let the lead drop, either.