Remco Evenepoel announced this morning before the start of stage six that he was perhaps looking to lend the red jersey to someone else to take the pressure off his shoulders for a while. However, as this Vuelta a España stage unfolded, it perhaps wasn’t the way the Soudal–Quick-Step rider would have hoped things would have gone, with several challenges preventing him from keeping control of the race.
The first issue Evenepeol encountered was the enormous breakaway that managed to form early on in the stage and the sheer talent within it, including eventual stage winner Sepp Kuss. Then, it was the time the breakaway managed to gain on the peloton, establishing a gap of over six minutes ahead of Evenepoel and the other GC contenders. And then finally, the summit finish of today’s stage, which saw the Belgian distanced after Primož Rolgič made an attack with 2km to go, followed by Jonas Vingegaard. Evenepoel struggled to keep a hold of the immense pace the Jumbo-Visma riders were setting on the climb’s steepest slopes, and with none of his teammates around to help him close the gap, Evenepoel had his work cut out in order to limit his losses.
While he did seem to claw back some distance between himself and his GC contenders with a solid effort passing a number of riders, Evenepoel still crossed the line 24th, 3:32 behind Kuss, and, more importantly, 32 seconds behind Roglič and Vingegaard. This now sees him pushed down to ninth on the GC, 2:47 behind the new red jersey wearer Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ), a 20-year-old rider with immense potential.
Evenepoel was once a rider who might have lost control of his emotions following a bad stage like this, however, the 23-year-old rider in his post-race interview calmly said: “Not bad. I was feeling ok, just couldn’t speed up when the others went. I just had to hold my own pace and in the end, it was 30 seconds slower than the fastest guys. I didn’t feel like I was really going all out, it was more of a controlled effort, but I just could not go over that limit. You just have some days like that. Today it was my turn with not having the best legs.”
Luckily for Evenepoel, his not-so-best-legs did manage to limit any losses. Managing to find his “own rhythm”, he still sits above his main rivals in the overall. However, it is not as comfortable a time gap as it was before the stage started. Enric Mas (Movistar) is just three seconds behind Evenepoel, Vingegaard five, Primož eight, Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) 16, and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) 2:10.
Even with a bad day, the young rider is confident in his capabilities, accepting that every rider has a bad day, especially when racing for three weeks. He said: “if this was a bad day, then it’s ok”. But after Friday’’s flat stage, the mountains return again for another GC battle and Evenepoel will have to keep a very close eye on the Jumbo-Visma dynamic duo, who looked incredibly strong on the final climb of stage six. He’ll also have to be aware of Ayuso, who was also climbing well, crossing the line just behind the riders in black and yellow. Mas is uncomfortably close, too, and for a time was the only rider to stick with Roglič and Vingegaard, eventually being dropped and gaining just eight seconds on Evenepoel. The only GC rider Evenepoel doesn’t have to worry about at the moment is Thomas, who looks to be suffering in this first week of the Vuelta.
Today could have been much worse for Soudal–Quick-Step and Evenepoel, but the momentum in this race is clearly now with Jumbo-Visma, and Evenepoel will have to hope for smoother sailing in the coming days. He’s hopefully also clear of any illness that saw his teammate Andrea Bagioli abandon the race. And while this might not be a stage that definitively decides who wears the red jersey in Madrid at the end of the three weeks, it could certainly be a significant turning point in the fight for overall victory.