Another huge performance from Remco Evenepoel in Vuelta a España 2022, finally dropping every one of his GC contenders on the steep slopes of Les Praeres. The Belgian beat Simon Yates’ record on the climb by 16 seconds and extended his lead in the general classification.
It was a hard day with multiple medium mountains, raced aggressively from the start. The stage finished with the only rampas inhumanas climb in this Vuelta, the super steep Les Praeres (3.9 km, 12.7%) climb. This climb was previously used in the 2018 Vuelta, where Simon Yates on won on Stage 14, beating Miguel Angel Lopez and Alejandro Valverde by 2 seconds. Curiously enough Yates, Lopez and Valverde finished today in the same order as in 2018 on Les Praeres but were only the 6th, 7th and 8th fastest GC riders and lost more than a minute to Evenepoel.
The breakaway did not form immediately. It was only established after 40 kilometres into the race before the first categorized climb, with Quickstep-Alphavinyl not allowing Jay Vine into the breakaway. The biggest GC threat in the front group was Thymen Arensman, who was 11th in GC and only +3:18 min behind Evenepoel. With Arensman in the group, Movistar and other teams might have helped Quick-Step chase, to protect their position in GC. However a weird thing happened when Arensman dropped out of the breakaway by himself, perhaps because other riders told him to do so, which is common in cycling if a rider is too close in the GC and ruining the other riders chances at winning from the breakaway.
The peloton finally eased up, and two time stage winner Jay Vine tried once again to bridge the gap, with Marc Soler and Santiago Buitrago, but their move was neutralised by Quickstep. During their attempt Joao Almeida, one of the pre race favourites, even lost contact with the peloton. Almeida is known for pacing himself and riding at a constant tempo but even he did not appear to be too relaxed in this situation, getting on the radio to the team to tell them he is caught behind.
Louis Meintjes was by far the best climber out of anyone in the breakaway and Les Praeres is a climb which suits him even compared to some GC riders, with his very low weight. The breakaway had a 3 minute advantage over the peloton before Les Praeres, which was enough for the other riders to try and work over Meintjies before the climb started. However the South African was smart, rode his own tempo and won his first World Tour stage at age 30.
Meintjes did an estimated 6.20 w/kg for 16:33, which is a very strong performance after a hard day in a small group, especially when they were working against him. He beat the closest rider, Samuele Battistella, by 1:01 minutes. Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux has revived the careers of climbers such as Meintjes, Jan Hirt and Rein Taaramae, who are all over 30. Domenico Pozzovivo at age 39 even finished eighth in Giro d’Italia after he almost retired, receiving no offers from other teams in the last off-season until Intermarché picked him up as the season commenced.
Meanwhile in the peloton, Remco Evenepoel was untouchable. Julian Alaphillipe did his best to position Evenepoel because before the final climb was a short technical descent, where Tao Geoghegan Hart and Chris Harper crashed. Evenepoel was well positioned by his teammates and it was inevitable that he would be the fastest from the GC group again.
Les Praeres is a steep wall where the drafting effect is very reduced. The perfect climb for Evenepoel who loves to set his own pace and does not care about his rivals on his wheel. Surprisingly, 19-year-old Juan Ayuso was confident enough to accelerate from the GC group right at the start of Praeres, but it was not long after Evenepoel set his pace and dropped everyone for the first time this Vuelta – this time including Enric Mas who is in his best climbing shape.
Evenepoel made huge gaps and did another great performance. He produced an estimated 6.83 w/kg for 15:06 minutes, beating Simon Yates’ record by 16 seconds. It was a great day for Spanish cycling as Ayuso finished second from the GC group with Enric Mas and Carlos Rodriguez following him close behind. Primož Roglič who has been the best rider on steep ramps for the last few years, lost 46 seconds to Evenepoel after entering the climb in bad position. A tough day for Jumbo-Visma, who also lost Roglič’ teammate Sepp Kuss before the stage, due to illness.
By pure w/kg standards this was not Evenepoel’s Top 3 performance in his career but it was still an extremely high level performance. Overall it was a hard stage with a lot of fatigue before the final climb and two difficult stages preceding it in the last three days. Evenepoel busted many myths on this stage about him that he cannot perform in heat, on steep climbs (he already did a great performance on the steep Erlaitz in San Sebastian Classic), on hard stages and back to back mountain days. The final hurdle for Evenepoel in this Vuelta is whether he can conquer the altitude in the upcoming Sierra Nevada stage.
After the first rest day, the next stage will be a 30.9 km flat time-trial, which will finish in Alicante. Evenepoel very likely will win with even a minute gap over second place, which is realistic, considering his shape. Jay Vine lost 13 minutes intentionally to Evenepoel and now likely will focus on hunting stages and KOM points.
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One unusual feature of this Vuelta stage came on social media, with Joel Embiid, one of the best basketball players in the world, tweeting about the new generation of cyclists, having obviously watched the stage.
Embiid tweeted also after the Tour de France in French saying he thought Pogačar would win 10 Tour de France’s in a row but Vingegaard was too strong. Embiid knows cycling so well that he mentioned that Pogačar made a big mistake following Roglič on Col du Granon stage, which might have cost him the Tour.