Remco Evenepoel won stage 10 of the Vuelta a Espana on Tuesday, extending his overall lead in the race by dominating a flat 30.9km individual time-trial from Elche to Alicante.
The 22-year-old Belgian not only won his first stage on the race but also extended his overall lead on defending champion Primoz Roglic by 48 seconds.
Last down the ramp at the Elche start line, Evenepoel was already in the race leader’s red jersey ahead of a time-trial that suited his strengths.
The Quick-Step leader timed 33min 18sec on the day while three-time defending champion Roglic was a distant second.
After speeding across the line with an average speed of 55.7 km/h, Evenepoel was kissed by his team director before lying flat on his bike frame for around a minute.
He came into the race claiming a stage win was his target.
“Now we’re going to fight to try to win this Vuelta,” Evenepoel vowed Tuesday.
“It was actually really hard,” he said.
“The pressure is off. I won a stage. Now the whole team is super confident, I think. Everybody is performing so well and now we just have to fight to keep this jersey and take it home to Wevelgem.”
Evenepoel is now 2min 41sec ahead of Slovenian Roglic in the overall standings with Spain’s Enric Mas of Movistar third at 3min 03sec.
Rounding out the top five are Carlos Rodriguez of Ineos at 3min 55sec and Simon Yates at 4min 50sec.
Touted in Belgium as the ‘new Eddy Merckx’ before he plunged into a ravine in Italy in 2020 and broke a hip, Evenepoel has won 11 races this season.
In Spain, he has the world champion Julian Alaphilippe to guide his every move and given his current advantage, the Vuelta should be his to lose if he plays his cards right.
Sam Bennett became the highest profile rider to pull out with Covid so far as the Irishman failed to start. The Bora rider had been in the running for the sprint jersey and won two stages in this year’s race.
The 156 remaining riders from the 184 who started out take on a flat run on Wednesday.
But on Thursday the race intensifies with a relentless 20km climb after a flat run though the province of Malaga on the Costa del Sol.
The biggest test still facing Evenepoel is the stage 15 run to Alto Hoya de la Mora in the Sierra Nevada, a pure mountain stage with over 40km of tough climbing in the Jaen province where sizzling temperatures are expected.
Alaphilippe is unlikely to be with him on the upper slopes, and it is there an alliance of fortune between the other contenders could see a series of attacks challenge the young Belgian.
Even then one last test on stage 20 with a hard summit finish remains before the run into Madrid on stage 21.