Evenepoel completes hat-trick with stage 18 victory – Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a Espana 2023

Stage 18

Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) soloed to his third stage victory of the Vuelta a España, winning from the breakaway with a 29km move on the race’s final summit finish at La Cruz de Linares on stage 18.

The Belgian, who secured victory in the mountain classification along the way, proved the strongest from a 14-man break as he dropped Max Poole (Team dsm-firmenich) and Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) on the steep slopes of the first of two ascents of the Puerto de la Cruz de Linares.

Over 10 minutes down the climb, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) led a select GC group towards the summit, with the intra-team attacks of recent days seemingly dispensed with as the Dane and Primož Roglič looked to focus on leading race leader Sepp Kuss towards the top.

Evenepoel, who secured the polka dot mountains jersey with his ride, would cross the finish line to take his 50th win at 4:44 up on second-placed Caruso. Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny) rounded out the podium at 5:10 down, just ahead of Poole.

“The message was the O for Oumi, my wife. She said if I would take my third victory, I had to dedicate it to her,” Evenepoel said after the stage.

“I felt that I was the strongest of the group and that I didn’t want to waste any time, that I had to go for it. I felt that the legs were super good today and I had a better day like I had in stage 14. It’s an amazing stage to win. It was a super good opportunity to take the points for my jersey – I took all the points – and my third stage win is amazing to end the Vuelta with.

“I think after my off day in Formigal and Tourmalet I had to turn the page and go for stages. I think I won three of the most beautiful stages of the Vuelta and I took the mountain jersey so it has been an amazing Vuelta even if the GC plan didn’t work out.

“It’s amazing to finish the stage with such a good feeling and to have such good legs at the end of the Vuelta. It means that I keep improving and that I just had a bad week in the second week, so I think we should just be happy and proud.”

Back in the GC group, the race to the finish was sedate in comparison to the recent summit finishes at Bejes and the Altu de L’Angliru. Bahrain Victorious tried to set up moves for Mikel Landa, but with Vingegaard and Roglič setting the pace, the second half of the climb was effectively neutralised.

The duo led an armchair ride for Kuss, with the American having to do little aside from responding a pair of Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) attacks inside the final kilometre before his teammates retook control.

Evenepoel grinds his way to a third stage win.

“I think that first of all the guys did a really great job. First of all pulling the whole day and then on the last two laps of the finishing climb Jan was there and he came back and was riding super for us,” Kuss said after the finish.

“Then Jonas did a really good pace from the bottom. I was a bit scared that he’s so strong that his pace isn’t always the easiest. But he rode super for me and we rode a more defensive tactic. I think there’s what we agree on as a team and between us three before the Angliru stage, which we all agreed on, and then also what strategy we wanted to follow through with after that stage. So, it’s always changing and there are some mistakes here and there, but that’s human nature.

“It’s getting closer,” he said of overall victory. “Tomorrow is a bit of an easier stage, but we have to stay focussed. Stage 20 will be a really long and hard stage. We’re out of the big mountains but there’s always some tough ones.”

A late attack from Ayuso and Enric Mas (Movistar) saw the GC group cross the line at 9:29 down on Evenepoel, with only Vingegaard shedding some time in the final run to the line. The Dane shed nine seconds at the finish, giving Kuss a 17-second lead at the top of the standings heading into the final three days of the Vuelta, with Roglič third at 1:08.

Stage 18 of the Vuelta a España brought another mountainous test for the peloton of 149 riders, tackling five classified climbs along the 179km route including two ascents of the first-category Puerto de la Cruz de Linares (8.3km at 8.6%).

As the final summit finish of the race, it’d be one last chance for the top climbers of the peloton to escape early and claim a big mountain stage victory from the break, and so there was a big battle to make the breakaway of the stage right from the gun.

Attacks flew at the front in the early kilometres and it would take fewer than 15km for the right move to go, with former race leader Remco Evenepoel jumping away for the second day in a row.

The mountain classification leader formed part of a strong 14-man group up the road, with Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Max Poole (DSM-Firmenich), Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious), Lorenzo Germani (Groupama-FDJ), Nico Denz (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny) among the other notable names in the move.

With Jumbo-Visma controlling the peloton behind, the Dutch squad were soon happy to let the break get away, with the gap ballooning to the six-minute mark as the first climb of the day approached after 40km.

The second-category Alto de las Estacas (5.1km at 7.5%) would see Evenepoel nip off the front towards the top to add five points to his mountain classification lead as the group’s advantage hit 10 minutes on the way down the other side.

Damiano Caruso crosses the finish line in second place.

After a 30km ride through the valley, the first-category Puerto de San Lorenzo (9.9km at 8.6%) posed the second challenge of the day, with the break hitting the final 100km as Evenepoel and Caruso pushed the pace on the front.

Once again, Evenepoel led the way at the top, adding another 10 points to his collection to bring his lead to 55 with only 53 left to take in the race – his polka dot jersey was now mathematically certain.

Several dropped riders, including Germani, managed to make their way back on the long descent, while back in the peloton there were brief splits before things came back together before the third-category Alto de Tenebredo (3.4km at 9.5%). To no surprise it was Evenepoel pushing the pace once again on the way up as he grabbed another three points.

At the top only Caruso, Poole, Kron, Bernal, and Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies) stayed with him, the reduced break enjoying an advantage of almost 12 minutes to the peloton.

A lumpy run to the next climb took the riders into the final 40km of the stage and towards the first ascent of the Puerto de la Cruz de Linares. Back in the peloton, Bahrain Victorious assumed control of the peloton on the climb – for the second day in a row – while up front the attacks soon came.

Kron was the first to make a move on the double-digit gradients at the bottom of the climb, splitting the break once more. However, the Dane would quickly be caught by Evenepoel, Caruso, and Poole, with the trio heading straight past him moments later.

Evenepoel was driving it at the front yet again, keen to pick up more points and with an eye on the stage win, too. After 4km of riding in front of Caruso and Poole, Evenepoel’s acceleration came at the 29km mark, 4km from the top, with Caruso first to drop and Poole unable to keep up shortly afterwards.

The 23-year-old was solo for the second half of the climb, building a lead of 1:20 at the top as he added another 10 points to his KOM tally. The peloton crossed the top at 11:25 down, while Evenepoel mastered the twisting descent and passed through the finish line for the time at 1:35 up on Poole.

The Briton was rejoined by Caruso in the chase, though the pair struggled to work together as the Italian refused to take a turn. That left world time trial champion Evenepoel to build his lead on the flat run through the valley.

Evenepoel’s advantage hit the two-minute mark as he raced into the final 10km, the peloton – led by Bahrain and Jumbo-Visma – still lying 11 minutes down.

The breakaway battles the challenging gradients on stage 18.

He hit the final climb to the finish still two minutes up and with a third stage win of the race seemingly assured.

Back in the peloton, Denz and his Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Aleksandr Vlasov launched a move from the peloton in the valley, bringing Pelayo Sánchez (Burgos-BH) and former breakaway man Lewis Askey (Groupama-FDJ) going along for the ride.

UAE Team Emirates and Movistar were quick to organise behind, holding the move to 10 seconds as the climb approached.

As Evenepoel passed the midpoint of the climb now at four minutes up on the chasers, Vlasov and Sánchez were brought back as, 11 minutes behind, Bahrain Victorious retook control of the vastly reduced peloton.

As he did on the Angliru, Wout Poels led the pacemaking on the climb to the finish, sloughing riders off the rear of the group in anticipation of big GC moves coming further up. His teammate Landa would be the first to make a move, jumping midway up the climb and bringing Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) with him along with Enric Mas (Movistar) and the Jumbo-Visma trio of Kuss, Roglič and Vinegegaard.

Poels came back to the front the pace slowed, though Vingegaard was quick to take control, setting a steady pace at the front ahead of his two teammates.

Landa and Ayuso tried another foray off the front moments later, while up the road Evenepoel was rolling to the line after easing up the ascent alone. The Belgian may not have pulled off a red jersey defence this year, but three stage wins and the polka dot jersey will come as no small consolation.

The super-domestiques of Vingegaard and Roglič dragged Landa and Ayuso back shortly afterwards, the six-man group racing into the final 3km of the day with no major attacks at the front.

Compared to the controversy generating battles of recent days, the race to the line was a sedate one, with only a late flurry of Ayuso attacks threatening to upset the Jumbo-Visma finish line photo.

Mas and Ayuso put in a final acceleration into the final metres of the climb, though Kuss and Roglič had the measure of them to cross the line together, while Vingegaard rolled home a handful of seconds later, the Vuelta podium sweep now in the bag.

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