Remco Evenepoel may not have been able to defend his 2022 title at this year’s Vuelta a España, but the Belgian can walk away satisfied with his three weeks in Spain, heading back to Belgium with the polka dot climber’s jersey and three stage wins.
He almost came away with a fourth – for the second day in a row – following a late attack during Sunday’s final stage in Madrid, jumping from the peloton inside the final 40km in a move including Filippo Ganna and green jersey Kaden Groves.
However, after a huge effort to hold off the peloton, Evenepoel faded in the final kilometre as Groves burst through to win his third stage of the race ahead of the Italian. Ganna later said that he had told Evenepoel to attack in the neutral zone, saying, “It might have been a joke, but he took it seriously”.
Speaking after the stage, Evenepoel said he simply ran out of legs in the final but that he ended the Vuelta feeling positive.
“Whether I wanted to avoid the traditional bunch sprint? At the end it still looked like a bit of a sprint,” he told Sporza. “We had a plan with Casper Pedersen, but [Soudal-QuickStep DS] Klaas Lodewyck had told me I could jump if I saw an opportunity and if a nice group rode away.
“However, in the last 200 metres, my legs filled up. They still came over me easily. It was also hard to attack because Kaden Groves was smart enough to stay in my wheel. He knew I would try something else.
“I was in the least fortunate position to attack, and my start was strong, but my legs were full. But I had fun, and I can end this Vuelta with a good feeling.”
Evenepoel said that he comes away from the Vuelta satisfied with his achievements, which include placing 12th overall and the combativity prize, having made five breakaways during the final week.
“I’m satisfied with this Vuelta. Only stage 13 was disappointing,” Evenepoel told Het Nieuwsblad. “We can’t be disappointed, though. I won three stages and almost a fourth. That’s a nice result.
“I still don’t know what I did mentally to win a stage the day after that breakdown. I was really empty but the moment I got on the bike afterwards, I felt that I had good legs. Perhaps it was a kind of ‘revenge’. After that, I found my morale again and answered with the pedals.”
He said he “still has no explanation” for the bad day on the road to the Col du Tourmalet, where he dropped 90km out, shedding 27 minutes and falling out of GC contention, adding that he’ll have to put the day behind him.
“I am proud and happy. I still have no explanation for that off day. After that everything went well, and I’ll end the race with positive feelings and beautiful memories.
“I now have to forget that thirteenth stage. Here I learned to race more defensively, to deal with different situations and disappointments. This Vuelta will certainly help me in the future.”
Two more race days lie between Evenepoel and his winter break, with Il Lombardia on October 7 and the Chrono des Nations time trial (October 15) his final outings of the season. Before that, he’ll take a rest week ahead of another training block as he prepares to take on Tadej Pogačar at the year’s final Monument. Afterwards, it’ll be time to look towards 2024.
“Now a long winter is coming,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “I won’t start racing in January yet. So, we have time to make sure everything will be in order for the Tour de France.
“I have confidence in the team. We will be at the start of the Tour with the best preparation possible.”