Remco Evenepoel and Primož Roglič keep performing at a high level in Volta a Catalunya and today both race favourites pushed the best ᵉw/kg performances of their career (without accounting for altitude, fatigue or heat).
It was a unipuerto day and it was clear the climbing times would be fast as Remco Evenepoel and Primož Roglič both had the same time on GC before the stage and Quickstep would need to try and make the difference before Sunday in Barcelona. This version of Lo Port (8.6 km, 8.9%) was 300 metres longer than the one used in the 2017 race where Alejandro Valverde did it in 24:06 min with 6,60ᵉw/kg.
The cross headwind was not strong and it influenced the climbing time by a few seconds compared to neutral wind conditions. The difference this made on Lo Port has been around a single watt according to our formula.
Soudal Quick-Step had Fausto Masnada, Jan Hirt and Ilan van Wilder pacing for Evenepoel on the climb. But other teams like Bora-Hansgrohe and Bahrain-Victorious with 6-7 km to go also were present in the front driving the tempo for their respective GC leaders. This early hard pace from the bottom contributed to the huge gaps seen on a climb completed in under 25 minutes.
Ilan van Wilder gave his all and launched Evenepoel in the middle of Lo Port. The pace already was high and such riders as Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal were distanced way before the attack of Evenepoel. Only Primož Roglič and Marc Soler were strong enough to follow immediately with a gap to Hindley, Woods and Almeida. Surprisingly Soler was feeling so great that he even rode upped the tempo for a short period of time without blowing up.
Evenepoel as usual rode his own tempo like Miguel Indurain did back in the day to prevent attacks and hold his own watts. However unlike on La Molina, this time the World Champion did not fully commit to pacing to the final 500 metres and started playing games with Roglič, causing the trio slowed down. This allowed Joao Almeida to return who is renowned for holding his own tempo and ignoring accelerations. As the Portuguese superstar joined the group, UAE-Emirates teammate Soler started working at the front but it not might have been the right strategy as Roglič and Evenepoel on paper are stronger and it was unlikely that Almeida would outpunch them in the finish. UAE-Emirates could in theory have tried finessing the big duo but even with perfect tactics it would be hard to win as the climb is over 8-9% gradient and Roglič and Evenepoel seem a cut above their competitors in Catalunya.
In the last kilometre, a lot of things happened. After Soler had been distanced Almeida tried a surprise attack but it did not work as Evenepoel closed it. It was obvious that both big favourites legs were fresher than Almeida’s at the end as they had been content to sit in the wheel of Soler without much visible discomfort. After that Roglič accelerated with 600 metres to go and dropped Almeida.
It was time for the last acceleration by the World Champion. Evenepoel started his long final effort around the 300-metre mark as he was confident that Roglič had spent his bullets and even got a small gap over the Jumbo-Visma rider. Roglič, in similar fashion to many of his sprints in Tirreno, regathered Evenepoel’s wheel and had clearly been saving energy for the last burst. When the Slovene started his final sprint with 50 metres to go Evenepoel immediately surrendered and lost 6 seconds in a very short time.
Roglič after this stage has a 10-second gap over Evenepoel in the general classification and it will be hard to lose the race leader jersey as the last two stages will not end with a mountain top finish. However the final stage in Barcelona is a tricky circuit stage and Roglič has famously lost GC on the final day in the past – except not in Spain.
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Unsurprisingly, the performances on the climb were exceptional. The conditions were absolutely perfect for a high w/kg performance as the stage was fairly easy beforehand, the temperature was mild, the climb is consistently steep and started from just over sea level and did not go to high altitude. Rein Taaramäe before the climb spent 3009 kilojoules in 4 hours and 11 minutes which is 10.66 kj/kg/h, a fairly low intensity for a European WorldTour mountain stage. Multiple teams being willing to pace hard from the bottom, a common trend in 2023, also contributed to the huge performances. The fastest riders pushed around the same watts in the first half as in the second half, with the Quick-Step mountain train in particular doing an outstanding job.
Roglič did the climb in 23:54 min, beating Valverde’s 2017 record by 12 seconds despite the version of Lo Port today being 300 metres longer at a 7.7% gradient compared to 2017. By our estimations Roglič did 6.87 ᵉw/kg, while Evenepoel did 6.90 ᵉw/kg because he was at the front pacing in the wind for longer. This is the best pure ᵉw/kg performance since Alberto Contador’s 2009 performance on Verbier – a similar length of climb. Evenepoel missed the pink All-Time Top 25 trend-line by a very small margin but there will be more chances for him and other riders to break it in 2023. Contador was the last rider to reach the pink trend-line.
Evenepoel already produced a fantastic ᵉw/kg performance on Jebel Hafeet a month ago where he got beaten by Adam Yates at the end. The Belgian might even be more suited to harder stages like La Molina, rather than Lo Port which was fairly easy with no big mountains before the finish. Nonetheless, Catalunya has certainly increased the anticipation for the Giro d'Italia where many of these riders, including Evenepoel and Roglič, will go head to head.
Kārlis Ozols (@CyclingGraphs)