Romain Bardet: Sitting on Remco Evenepoel’s wheel felt like riding into a headwind

After his shock collapse on the Tourmalet stage, the Belgian struck back in typically brilliant fashion for a solo win

Victory for Evenepoel on the Belagua
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Twenty-four hours on from his shock capitulation on the Tourmalet stage of the Vuelta a España, the race’s defending champion Remco Evenepoel bounced back in his typical brilliant and ebullient style with an astonishing show of breakaway riding that began almost when the start flag dropped and ended with him finishing solo on the Puerto de Belagua, tears running down his cheeks as he crossed the line.

‘Yesterday was a very difficult day in a lot of ways. I had a lot of negative thoughts in my head and then I woke up and thought to myself, just think of something else,’ said the Soudal-QuickStep team leader following his victory. ‘I did a recon of this stage because I knew it would be important for the GC so I knew the climbs perfectly and that it was a super tough stage. It’s super nice to take a second stage win.’

Evenepoel’s start-to-finish escapade began in the opening few kilometres. One attack had already been reeled back in when he made his first move. That attempt was thwarted, but he was soon off the front again, with Movistar’s Nelson Oliveira to start with, the pair of them then joined by 22 other riders. ‘It was full gas but I was feeling pretty good and I was always in the moves,’ said the Belgian.

Although the peloton didn’t let them go without a fight, the elastic finally began to stretch on the super-category Col de la Hourcère. From the two dozen who were in the move, only the pick of the climbers remained, including Frenchman Romain Bardet and Australian Michael Storer. On the super-category Port de Larrau, where the race crossed from France back into Spain, Evenepoel and Bardet went away on their own, the peloton by now content to allow the escapees the chance to roam.

‘Romain was super cooperative with me, we worked very well together. I said that I was going to set the pace on the climbs and I set the tempo, and he worked on the flats and false flats,’ Evenepoel explained at the finish. First over the Larrau, which made him the leader of the mountains competition, Evenepoel led over the third-category Puerto de Laza and pressed on with Bardet towards the final ascent.

Climbing the Belagua, Bardet was bit by leg cramps. Evenepoel waiting for him at one point. Then, with four kilometres left to the finish, he cruised on, his pace relentless. ‘Sitting on his wheel was like riding into a headwind he was going so fast,’ Bardet said at the finish. ‘He did 80 per cent of the work and there’s no doubt that the strongest rider won. It was mad following him. When he was on the descents he was so aero that I was having to pedal to stay with him, and that was the same on the flats.’

Full of emotion at the finish, Evenepoel admitted, ‘I can be very proud of this victory.’ He added that he’ll now be looking for more stage wins and to defend the mountains jersey.

The GC riders arrived more than eight minutes behind the Belgian. The top 10 in the standings all finished together, leaving Sepp Kuss 1-37 up on Jumbo-Visma teammate Primož Roglič, with Jumbo’s Jonas Vingegaard in third, 1-44 back, before Sunday’s stage on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees.

Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Peter Cossins has been writing about professional cycling since 1993, with his reporting appearing in numerous publications and websites including Cycling WeeklyCycle Sport and Procycling - which he edited from 2006 to 2009. Peter is the author of several books on cycling - The Monuments, his history of cycling's five greatest one-day Classic races, was published in 2014, followed in 2015 by Alpe d’Huez, an appraisal of cycling’s greatest climb. Yellow Jersey - his celebration of the iconic Tour de France winner's jersey won the 2020 Telegraph Sports Book Awards Cycling Book of the Year Award.