Remco Evenepoel showed another great performance in Volta a Catalunya, winning his first mountain stage in 2023 against world-class competition. The Belgian phenomenon attacked at the top of La Molina and only Primož Roglič had the strength to respond after Quickstep had paced much of the last 50km. Despite drafting behind Evenepoel, the Jumbo-Visma leader was not able to hold the wheel up the final short climb when the World Champion opened up his sprint.
It was a hard climbing stage with a lot of kilojoules spent and fatigued legs after the previous day’s finish up Vallter 2000. Soudal Quick-Step paced Col de la Creuta (18.7 km, 4.9%) hard. With the descent in the middle included they did around 5.3 ᵉw/kg for 43 minutes which is a good effort before the final climb.
Ben O’Connor in the reduced GC group arrived at the base on La Molina with 3754 kilojoules spent for 4 hours and 18 minutes which is 13.00 kj/kg/h. Definitely a hard stage for a World-Tour one-week race at this point in the year and with most of the early climbs having moderate rather than severe gradients. La Molina was the last climb in the race but the final six kilometres were shallow and included a descent.
Jan Hirt and Ilan Van Wilder were pacing as hard as possible for Remco Evenepoel on the final climb who said he was feeling great on this day. It was clear what the Belgian team was doing and everyone in the GC group was expecting an attack from the World Champion. Evenepoel as usual was not riding for some parts of the climb fully in the draft behind teammates, often overlapping wheels. The drafting benefit on 7% gradient sections at the bottom of La Molina still have a big impact. After Van Wilder ended his pull, Evenepoel launched with 4.6 km to go when the gradients were shallow but everyone in the GC group was fatigued and it was a quite a big task to follow such a big acceleration.
Only Primož Roglič closed the gap to Evenepoel but even he was struggling to do that. The Belgian as usual continued to pull with the race leader in the draft. Roglič was struggling and it would not make much sense for him to help Evenepoel.
Evenepoel did 6.22 ᵉw/kg for 19:57 min on La Molina, losing only 19 seconds to the climbing record of Miguel Angel Lopez. It was mainly a headwind up the climb (red sections – headwind) and it is an impressive effort after the decently hard stage that was often raced over 1,500 metres altitude. The riders in the GC group lost 20 seconds at the crest, doing 6.05 ᵉw/kg. The climb segment we used ended with 3.8 km to go, so if the stage finished there, it is likely Evenepoel could have gone even faster on the climb proper.
Evenepoel had diamonds in the legs and he gapped Roglič at the end of the stage, despite the Slovene sitting in his draft for the entirety of the short descent and uphill ramp. It was Evenepoel’s first mountain stage win in 2023 and despite celebrating early he gapped Roglič by 2 seconds. The GC group lost 13 seconds with Ciccone taking 4 bonus seconds.
Roglič and Evenepoel both are on the same time in GC with Roglič keeping the leader’s jersey. Everything will be decided on the hard and steep Lo Port climb on Stage 5 before the finish in Barcelona on Stage 7. Evenepoel is looking great but kilojoules before La Molina might have helped him even as everyone else was more fatigued and Roglič has not had the ideal preparation at the start of this season.
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The average altitude of the La Molina climb is 1425 metres above sea level and it tops out at 1699 metres. Evenepoel’s performance is good considering the last 3.8 km to go after the climb the Belgian continued to pull and still won the sprint against Roglič.