Roglič’s abandon was confirmed by Jumbo-Visma on Wednesday morning, and it means that Evenepoel’s overall lead has grown from 1:26 over the Slovenian to 2:01 over Movistar’s Enric Mas. It also removes Evenepoel’s most dangerous and experienced rival from the equation as the Vuelta a España approaches its endgame.
“This doesn’t change anything in our tactics or our mentality,” Evenepoel told reporters before the start of stage 17 in Aracena. “It’s still the same feelings, the Vuelta is over in Madrid. It’s going to change the race a little bit, but not our concentration or focus: that’s not going to change at all.
Evenepoel downplayed the idea that his route to victory would easier without the winner of the past three editions of the race breathing down his neck.
“Everybody is still dangerous, every day is dangerous, every corner is dangerous. We have to be careful and focus until Saturday evening – and even Sunday evening,” said Evenepoel, who acknowledged that Mas was, by dint of his position on GC, the man he would be watching most closely.
“For sure, the closest is the most dangerous, but there is still a very strong [Miguel Angel] López and the two young Spanish guys. We are still looking at everybody in the top ten.”
In the revised standings, Mas is the only rider within four minutes of Evenepoel. Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) is 4:49 behind, with Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos) lying at 5:15 and Miguel Angel López (Astana-Qazaqstan) now provisionally fifth at 5:24.
After Evenepoel dominated the opening half of the Vuelta, Roglič had begun to claw back time over the past three stages, beginning the trend at La Pandera and continuing atop Sierra Nevada on Sunday.
Roglič resumed his offensive on Tuesday’s finale in Tomares, attacking from the peloton with 2.6km to go on the gentle rise to the line, dragging a five-man group 8 seconds clear by the finish.
His crash in the finishing straight, however, would force him out of the race. Roglič had already abandoned this year’s Tour de France after dislocating his shoulder and fracturing two vertebrae in a crash in the opening week.
“It’s a big loss, especially for the race but more for himself, I think,” Evenepoel said. “It’s something you don’t wish for anybody. I just hope he can recover well. I feel really sad for him.”
Evenepoel endured a scare of his own in the finale at Tomares when he changed bikes in the finale following a rear wheel puncture. As the incident took place inside the final 3km, Evenepoel was awarded the same time as the peloton, eight seconds behind Roglič.
“I think we went into the last 6km or 7km in the top 10 or 15 places,” Evenepoel said on Wednesday. “Then all the sprinters’ teams were coming, and I’m the type of rider who doesn’t really like to fight with the sprinters’ teams, because if I push them, I fly away. So I just didn’t want to stress myself to get in the top 10 on the climb.
“We entered [the climb] in position 20 or 30, and then Dries [Devenyns] brought me into a good position where I could start my attack, but then my tyre went flat. There was no trouble with the positioning.”
Speaking to Sporza, QuickStep-AlphaVinyl directeur sportif Klaas Lodewyk denied that Evenepoel had punctured prior to the 3km to go marker before calling attention to his flat tyre.
“Just after turning the first corner, we heard Remco say that he had a flat tyre. Fortunately, we knew that the 3km rule applied, I had called yesterday morning to make sure,” says Lodewyck.
“We immediately said that he should not panic. It is certainly not the case that he had been riding with a flat tyre before that.”
Lodewyck echoed Evenepoel in insisting that Roglič’s absence did not necessarily make the business of winning the Vuelta more straightforward.
“We have thirty seconds more of an advantage than yesterday, but you never know,” he said. “We must remain attentive and there must certainly be no slacking off now. The race is only done on Saturday evening.”