Remco Evenepoel hopes of defending his Vuelta a España title crumbled in the Pyrenees after he was dropped with 90km to go on an extremely tough mountain stage.
Post-race, Evenepoel’s collapse was put down to not illness or injury, but just a "bad day" by his Soudal - Quick-Step squad. The stage was won by Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), with his teammate Sepp Kuss strengthening his position in the red jersey, as a third Jumbo rider, Primož Roglič, came third. Evenepoel's collapse signalled the end of his defence of the Vuelta title.
“Not much can be said about this stage," Quick-Step DS Klaas Lodewyck said. "It was just a bad day for Remco – he was not sick or injured. It’s unfortunate and it can happen. Cycling is not racing on a simulator and we are all human beings. We will sit down as a team tonight, assess what happened and look at our goals for the rest of the race."
The Belgian sensation had started the day on the podium just 1-09 black on Jumbo-Visma’s Sepp Kuss in the red jersey. He even had a modest lead on his other Jumbo-Visma challengers Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard, 23 second and 1-13 further back respectively.
But after his collapse he ended it 27-05 minutes behind stage winner Jonas Vingegaard and now sits 19th on GC 27-50 down.
At the start of the day, with no break decisively establishing itself, the racing was fierce into the bottom of the Col d'Aubisque. It was about half-way up the mountain that Evenepoel was distanced with 90km left to go in the 135km long mountain stage as the Jumbo-Visma team set the pace.
His team swiftly amassed around him but he was soon well over a minute and a half in arrears of the main GC group as Jumbo set pace over the top of the mountain and continued to press home their advantage on the descent.
Come the next climb Evenepoel continued to haemorrage time and was around two minutes back at the top of the Col de Spandelles with the Col du Tourmalet still to face.
The capitulation will doubtless sting for Belgian as he is the defending champion and has already won one stage of the race, stage three’s uphill finish to Arinsal. Plus, he had started the day wearing the young riders jersey but relinquished that too.
His fall out of GC contention leaves Jumbo-Visma with all three of the main favourites in Roglič , Vingegaard and of course Kuss.
Kuss was been instrumental in the Roglič’s Giro d’Italia win in May this year and was also and important part of Jonas Vingegaard’s dominant victory in the Tour de France in July. How much those galacticos will be willing to play second fiddle to their usual super-domestique is yet to be seen.
Parallel to Evenepoel’s troubles UAE-Emirates GC challenger João Almeida also lost time, as did his teammate Marc Soler, and Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ).
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