'I need a good ice cream tonight': Remco Evenepoel on loving life as leader of the Vuelta a España

It's all sunshine and smiles for the Belgian - even if there's pitfalls to avoid in the coming days

Remco Evenepoel
(Image credit: getty)

It was a really basic question, not loaded with any hidden meaning, but simply wanting Remco Evenepoel to express himself.

"What do you think about the Vuelta a España, Remco?" asked a Spanish journalist.

Most riders would go off on a PR exercise of praising the route, calling the fans the best in the world and describing the race as the best there is. Evenepoel did none of that.

He cut a wide smile, and apologised. "It's going to be a really short answer so I am sorry for that," he said. "I love it. So far, I love it." He put the microphone down and his smile grew wider.

After nine stages, Evenepoel leads the Spanish Grand Tour by 72 seconds from his nearest challenger Enric Mas; the defending champion Primož Roglič is almost two minutes in arrears.

It's been a momentous week for the Belgian, one in which he has quashed claims about him being unable to climb with the best on the steepest of climbs. He deserves his day off tomorrow. "First, I will enjoy my rest day," he confirmed. "I need a good ice cream tonight."

His performance on stage nine was arguably the greatest of his young career. He was outstanding, putting in potentially significant amounts of time into his rivals. They were unable to respond to his attacks, and then incapable of keeping him within distance.

"This was the plan," he said. "We wanted to let the leading group ride for the win, because it's always better that the bonuses are gone. It was perfect that the escapees took the stage victory and it was up to me to take time. I had the legs to go full throttle and I'm very happy with what we showed as a team."

The race resumes on Tuesday with a 31km time trial in Alicante that Evenepoel has already ridden, and his family will be by the roadside watching. He spends a lot of time in eastern Spain, most recently in the immediate weeks prior to the Vuelta.

But before the Vuelta got underway, he knew it would be the first half of the race, as opposed to the second half, that would be crucial for him to take advantages on his rivals.

"To survive this weekend, and with the time trial coming up, these were three really important days that I marked with a red marker pen for this Vuelta," he revealed. 

"I've been working really, really, really hard to get to this level, to get these climbing legs, looking for the perfect weight and stuff like that, but what we have now is perfect so far. But I'm not going to say I'm the best climber or rider so far; that's really difficult to say."

Evenepoel believes the parcours is less difficult before next weekend's double header of mountain stages, but he also knows there are potential pitfalls waiting to entrap him as the race heads south.

"The heat," he stated when asked what will be his biggest rival. "It will become really warm next week." He's also aware of the longevity of a Grand Tour. "We're getting into the second week of the Vuelta, so the fatigue is coming." As he takes his seat on the plane to Alicante tonight, he won't have his teammate Pieter Serry in sight, for the Belgian withdraw before stage nine after testing positive for Covid.

Yet Evenepoel prefers to keep the conversation upbeat. Why be down when you're leading a Grand Tour in only your second ever appearance in a three-week race?

"Let's not talk in a negative way," he said. "We've done perfect this week. I've been wearing the red jersey for three days now and we can only be happy with what we have now. 

"It's always difficult to predict the future so let's just enjoy this red jersey, my performances and the teamwork because the team is simply amazing."

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