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Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) dug deep to defend his overall race lead at the Vuelta a España on the queen stage to the altitude finish atop Sierra Nevada. He suffered but limited his time losses to Enric Mas (Movistar) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and so kept the leader’s red jersey.
Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) confirmed his Grand Tour talents by winning the queen stage from the break of the day. He attacked to catch and pass Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) and then pushed on to win alone.
Behind him, Mas got away with Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Qazaqstan) with ten kilometres to go and then Roglič made an attack in the final kilometre, but Evenepoel only lost a handful of seconds, arguably retaking the psychological advantage.
Mas finished 1:23 down on Arensman, with Roglič at 1:44. Evenepoel stopped the clock at 1:59, limiting his loss to Roglič to just 15 seconds.
Evenepoel now leads Roglič by 1:34 on the general classification, with Mas at 2:01. Evenepoel has lost time across the mountainous weekend but can enjoy Monday’s rest day still in the leader’s jersey.
“This is the first time I’ve finished so high, so I think I did quite well,” Evenepoel said as he warmed down.
“I still felt a bit stiff muscles after the crash but I’m getting better every day, so I’m happy it’s a rest day tomorrow and that I lost almost nothing. It was good for us.”
Evenepoel is now looking forward to the third week of racing.
“Now the third week is a bit of another story. The climbs are not super, super hard anymore. Yesterday I had a pretty shit day, today was better and I lost almost no time. I had to ride almost the whole climb and then Primož attacked me with 2km to go. That’s his right but I think I managed very well.”
Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) was unable to stay with the Evenepoel group but showed his talents to limit his losses and finish at 1:55. Young rival Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers) suffered more and finished at 3:29, Ayuso moving past him to fourth overall at 4:49. Rodriguez is now fifth at 5:16.
Arensman had only won the time trial stage at the Tour de Pologne before the Vuelta but his talents were clear at the Tour of the alps and Ineos Grenadiers have wisely signed him for 2023.
“It’s really hard for it to sink in, that i’ve won the queen stage at the Vuelta and on the Sierra Nevada, which everyone was talking about,” Arensman said emotionally.
‘I didn’t feel super good on the stage but the others felt their legs even more. When I was alone I only had to think about pushing 400 watts. It was enough and it’s unbelievable to win.”
How it unfolded
After Evenepoel’s time loss and with the difficulty of the Queen stage of the Vuelta, the ride to the summit finish at Sierra Nevada was always going to be a pivotal stage in this year’s Vuelta and the riders sensed the importance at the start in Martos. The stage was relatively short at 149.6km but climbed 22.5km up to the thin air of 2,501 metres.
Yet again the attacks came as soon as the flag dropped, with another race within the race for the stage victory.
Hugh Carthy, Vincenzo Nibali and Rohan Dennis were part of the first attack, indicating the importance of the day. A crash involving Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) indicated the tension in the peloton. He suffered lots of road rash but later gave a thumbs up to show he was okay and able to ride on.
Big breakaways often get away on stage like this and that was again the case, as QuickStep focused on protecting Evenepoel and bluffing their rivals and friends into chasing. Wisely they also placed two riders in the attack.
29 riders managed to get in the attack of the day after a fast 30km of racing: Thymen Arensman (DSM), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), David De La Cruz (Astana), Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Rigoberto Urán and Hugh Carthy (EF Education), Jay Vine (Alpecin Deceuninck), Gino Mäder (Bahrain Victorious), Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), Sébastien Reichenbach (Groupama FDJ), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Rudy Molard (Groupama FDJ), Sam Oomen (Jumbo-Visma), Élie Gesbert (Arkea), Rubén Fernández (Cofidis), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Lawson Craddock (BikeExchange), Xandro Meurisse (Alpecin Deceuninck), Omer Goldstein (Israel-Premier Tech), Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma), Fausto Masnada (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates), Louis Vervaeke (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), Nicolas Prodhomme (AG2R Citroën), Xabier Mikel Azparren (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Mads Pedersen and Antonio Tiberi (Trek-Segafredo).
Arensman was the best placed rider in the GC, just 9:14 behind Evenepoel, while Vine was protecting his blue polka-dot mountains jersey and Pedersen was again riding for more points in the intermediate sprint.
After 35km of racing, the 28 had a four-minute lead, with QuickStep setting a steady pace in pursuit and Rémi Cavagna riding on the front.
Vine was first over the short Puerto del Castillo climb and then the stage settled for the ride to Granada and the long haul up to Sierra Nevada.
Only Lawson Craddock ripped up the expected script, the American attacking alone on the flat road to Granada. He opened a gap and so was first to the intermediate sprint in the city with 60km to race. Pedersen made sure he was second to collect a further 17 points.
Behind, after QuickStep used up some of their riders, AG2R took over on the approach to the nine-kilometre Alto del Purche climb, riding to protect Ben O’Connor tenth place overall and perhaps set him up for a shot at the stage victory. Bob Jungels did a huge amount of work, reducing the gap to 4:30.
Craddock pushed on to stay away over the Alto del Purche but Vine cruelly surged across to take the maximum 10 points and extend his total to 53 and so distance Carapaz.
As the Sierra Nevada loomed ever larger and the gradient began to point upwards, Craddock and Vine were caught by the attackers. The peloton was still at 4:30 with a long, hard 28km to climb.
The early 10% section of the climb to Sierra Nevada hurt everyone, splitting the attack and the GC group. Masnada crashed and van Wilder was distanced, leaving Evenepoel alone. Jumbo-Visma took advantage and upped the pace. Chris Harper again produced a long turn to help Roglič and create a select group.
Evenepoel, O’Connor, Mas and Lopez were there, while Tao Geogheghan Hart dragged Carlos Rodriguez back on, only for him to be distanced again. Ayuso was distanced but fought to limit his losses and joined forces with his fellow young Spaniard. Carapaz also dropped back from the remains of the attack to pace his teammate, while Joao Almeida crawled up to them too.
Up front, Soler pushed on alone from the attack, chasing the stage victory. He opened a 50-second gap as Arensman, Hindley, Meintjes, De La Cruz, Urán, Vine and Mäder tried to keep him within striking distance.
Louis Vervaeke dropped back from the break to help Evenepoel as the race switched from the narrow and steep approach road, to the main 13.6km climb up to Sierra Nevada.
It was difficult to get a gap on the wide road but Lopez attacked with 10.5km, in pursuit of glory and precious time. He was only a minute down on Soler. Soon after Mas also attacked Evenepoel, leaving him with just Roglič and O’Connor for company.
When the climb reached 2,000m of altitude Mas joined Lopez, while Arensman surged across and past Soler to try to fight for the stage victory. He pushed on and managed to hold a 1:20 lead on the Mas chase group.
Evenepoel refused to panic and kept riding in the big ring on the constant 5.5% gradient, time trialling in pursuit of Mas. He managed to keep the gap at 30 seconds, a tailwind helping him slightly as he showed maturity and ability beyond his years.
Roglič did not move from the wheels, seemingly unable to attack Evenepoel and join Mas. He sat on O’connor and Evenepoel and only kicked away with two kilometres to go, clearly not on a great day.
He got a gap but did not crack Evenepoel, boosting the Belgian’s morale and hopes of overall victory going into the third week.
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