Remco Evenepoel brushes off signs of weakness after struggling to follow rivals at Vuelta a España

‘If this was a bad day, then it’s okay’ Belgian says after losing red and narrowly holding onto GC advantage

Clock17:40, Thursday 31st August 2023
Remco Evenepoel was dropped on the summit finish of stage 6 of the Vuelta a España

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Remco Evenepoel was dropped on the summit finish of stage 6 of the Vuelta a España

At the start of stage 6, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) made no secret of the fact that he was hoping to give away the red jersey on Thursday, after going into the Vuelta a España race lead early on stage 3. Relinquish the jersey to a non-threatening rival, take the pressure off his team for a few days, no harm done for his long-term ambitions.

And lose the jersey he did, but the Belgian perhaps lost a little more than he bargained for on the race’s second summit finish. Rather than simply hand off the maillot rojo to an innocuous breakaway rider and finish with his main GC rivals, Evenepoel showed signs of weakness on the final climb, failing to follow the the likes of Primož Roglič, Jonas Vingegaard (both Jumbo-Visma) and Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) as they rode away from him on the slopes of the Pico del Buitre.

“I was feeling okay, I just couldn’t speed up when the others went,” Evenepoel said at the finish. “I just had to hold my own pace and in the end it was thirty seconds slower than the fastest guys.”

The Soudal Quick-Step leader eventually finished 3:24 down on the winner Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) and 2:58 back on Lenny Martínez (Groupama-FDJ), to whom he passes the red jersey, but more crucially he lost 32 seconds to Roglič and Vingegaard, and a handful to Ayuso, Enric Mas (Movistar), João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and Cian Uijtdebroeks (Bora-Hansgrohe).

Read more: Vuelta a España stage 6: Sepp Kuss wins stage as Jumbo-Visma dominate

Because of the advantage Evenepoel started the day with, he still remains ahead of those riders on GC - he now sits eighth - but only just. What is more concerning, perhaps, is that he couldn’t follow his rivals’ accelerations.

He limited his losses in the end, but failing to stay with riders he should be able to beat is not where Evenepoel should be less than a week into his Grand Tour defence - nor does it seem advisable to offer a 2:39 lead to Kuss.

Read more: Super Sepp Kuss elevates into the Vuelta a España GC race

The 23-year-old, however, chose his words carefully to downplay any suggestions of weakness or an explosion.

“I didn’t feel like I was going really really all-out,” he said. “It was more like a controlled effort, but I just could not go over that limit. You just have some days like that and today it was my turn for not having the best legs.”

The time that Evenepoel did manage to conserve on GC mainly came from the fact he was able to close the gap to the likes of Roglič and Vingegaard in the final part of the climb despite the initial failure to match their accelerations, something he put down to having tired legs earlier in the stage.

“I could actually speed up in the last two kilometres,” he continued. “It was a bit strange, let’s say a bad moment. The race was really hard from the gun on, so I think I just needed to find my own rhythm and settle myself a bit. The good thing is that I could speed up in the last 2km, still had something left in the last 500m as well. Like I said, if this was a bad day then it’s okay.”

The lack of mountain support for Evenepoel has long been a question surrounding Quick-Step, and that may well continue after today, with rumours off illness circling around the team - Andrea Bagioli had to abandon during the stage - and Evenepoel left to limit his losses himself on the climb.

However, remaining talkative and positive after a stage that most would point at as a bad sign, Evenepoel seemed unfazed by his performance on stage 6, and certainly not seeing it as a bad omen of things to come.

“Let’s hope this was one of the worst days of these three weeks,” he concluded with a smile.

With all of the race’s hardest climbing yet to come, where 30 seconds could easily become three minutes on a single climb, Evenepoel can’t afford to have another bad day like that if he wants to win this Vuelta.

Head over to our Vuelta a España race hub for all the latest news, results and tech from Spain.

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