Remco Evenepoel was victorious on the first mountain day at La Vuelta 2023, winning the sprint up the Arinsal climb. Perhaps due to the wind conditions, the climb was not paced particularly hard but several strong riders like Romain Bardet, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal still lost significant time.
After two rainy and chaotic days in Barcelona, for Stage 3 the peloton headed to the Pyrenees, passing two high altitude mountains in Andorra, Ordino and Arinsal. This would be the first real test for climbers and would reveal which GC riders arrived here in good shape. The pace on Ordino was already high, with 5.20 ᵉW/Kg for 40 minutes and 5.70 ᵉW/Kg at the end on the steep part which is really high watts for high altitude and the second last climb. This hard tempo was enough to drop the red jersey Andrea Piccolo and fatigue many of the riders.
The final test on Arinsal was going to be hard – the first time the climb is used in a high level race. 8.2 km at 7.8% with the steepest parts in the second half of the climb to 1,900 metres altitude. INEOS GC hope Thymen Arensman spent 3,535 kilojoules before the final ascent. 12.57 kj/kg/h for 4:05 hours is a moderate pace but riders definitely felt the effort on Ordino where the intensity was much higher than the average for the rest of the stage up to that point. Unfortunately there was a headwind on Arinsal and no particular team set a hard tempo on the initial slopes, with Jumbo-Visma, UAE, Bora-Hansgrohe and Soudal – Quick Step fighting to be on the front at the start. Halfway into the climb Jay Vine began to set a high tempo after which his teammate Juan Ayuso accelerated, followed by Vingegaard. The Tour de France champion’s teammate Sepp Kuss immediately counterattacked, only to be followed by Marc Soler. With these accelerations Lennard Kämna from the early breakaway had come into sight and now the GC riders were interested in winnnig the stage.
In the end Remco Evenepoel accelerated early, around 200m from the finish before multiple bends. The Belgian had reconned the climb and made his second YouTube video about it. He knew about the twisty corners in the end which was an advantage for the front rider. Evenepoel celebrated his third La Vuelta stage win and became the leader of the race. INEOS had a terrible day as Bernal and Thomas lost 47 seconds and finished out of the top 20, while their best rider was Arensman, finished 21 seconds behind Evenepoel in 15th position.
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The watts were not particularly high even when adjusting for the high altitude of the climb. Evenepoel did Arinsal in 23:02 min with 6.03 ᵉW/Kg which is 6.41 ᵉW/Kg normalised to sea level. The rest of the GC riders did around 6.02 ᵉW/Kg who finished in the Top 10. Thomas and Bernal pushed only 5.80 ᵉW/Kg – Bernal since Alto Colorado in January and Thyon 2000 in April has not made a big improvement in his ᵉW/Kg game.
This stage was similar to the La Molina finish in the Volta a Catalunya in 2023 both with kilojoules and the final climb. Also on that stage Evenepoel showed his puncheur skills and out-sprinted Roglič for a stage victory. La Molina was not paced hard with 6.22 ᵉW/Kg for 19:57 min and it has an average altitude lower than Arinsal's (1425m vs 1594m) which makes both performances really similar.
This stage did not reveal much about the strongest climbers' form. But Evenepoel might be affected by a crash after the finish when Belgian did not brake too much and fell down as he flew into the crowd of journalists and soigneurs.