remco avonpool Might have to ditch his rainbow jersey for a different colored mail UAE Tour Stage Threebut the world champion seems to do nothing about losing.
Even though the music of the local marching band atop Jebel Jais almost drowned out his words in his first press conference as UAE tour leader, the bright red jersey he just won still looks like this red He wore it all the way to Madrid at last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
Despite his ascent to the GC lead, Evenepoel’s ascent up the endless slopes of Jebel Jais didn’t quite go according to plan as teammates Pieter Serry and Louis Vervaeke were punctured before they were about to pick up the pace of the peloton to attempt a turnaround Break away from Einer Rubio (Movistar) in the later stages.
But despite the setback, Evenepoel put his rare sprint talents to good use at the top of Jebel Jais, finishing second behind Rubio, opening a one-second gap in the chasing peloton and finishing in the overall among the best.
Now wearing the leader’s red jersey, but with the rainbow stripes still prominent on the cap and sneakers, Evenepoel is aware his sprint isn’t something he practices regularly, but proved to be handy in Wednesday’s unlikely summit setting.
“I’m not that explosive, but every year I get stronger and more explosive, and today came out,” Evenepoel said. “Even in some team camps, I can beat some fast fighters in the sprint, so it’s not like I’m slow. Of course, that’s not my main goal, and of course it’s not my strong suit, but to have a good The sprint felt good.”
Evenepoel said at the UAE Tour his aim was to be on the podium, but the bar has clearly been raised now. A change of leadership is unlikely in the three-day sprint leading up to Sunday’s summit finale. Of course, the most important sprint for Evenepoel was Jebel Jais.
“Of course, it’s a climb that suits me, it’s actually like a time trial, always high power,” he admitted. “I was surprised by my dominance in the sprint, which showed that I can still take a strong step in the final meters of the race.
“I was thinking maybe a little earlier, but I knew there was a headwind for the last 400 to 500 meters, so I had to be smart and wait for the last punch. That strategy paid off today.”
After winning Monday’s small group sprint and Tuesday’s TTT with Tim Merlier, Evenepoel came close to a Soudal-QuickStep hat-trick, with stabs by Serry and Vervaeke not helping his cause.
“But I think the winner is well deserved, because it’s not easy to get away from this climb,” Evenepoel said. “So hats off to him. I just now heard it’s his birthday, so I’m going to buy a cake at his table tonight.”
After overestimating his strength on the Alto Colorado uphill at the Vuelta a San Juan in January, Evenepoel said he had learned from his mistakes. “The big lesson for Argentina is to wait for the last few hundred meters and focus on the last attack,” he said. “I think it worked out really well today, I’ve been calm, I didn’t do anything stupid.”
Evenepoel didn’t rely too much on a pre-planned strategy, but had to rely on his instincts on Stage 3 after his power meter had been out of order all day, which might explain why he was on the climb. A more cautious approach.
“It’s all about feel, which proves I don’t always look at my power meter,” Evenepoel joked. “Maybe I should just throw it away and save a few grams that way too.”
Even though Sunday’s final was nominally tougher than Jebel Jais’, Evenepoel said he had learned some encouraging lessons from Stage 3.
“Jebel Hafeet is a different climb, it’s a bit steeper, so the effort will be a little shorter, and that all means we’re going to push it harder,” said Evenepoel, who also noted that he was on a much shorter climb than Jebel Hafeet. Baja’s sprint speed is fast and currently ranks third with a total score of 11 seconds.
“He’s a quick finisher, so having him behind is a good sign,” Evenepoel said. “So that means on Sunday I can also focus on the last 400 meters of the climb, which has a short descent and a sharp turn.
“But of course, if they go, I’ll have to follow them, and a seven-second advantage on GC isn’t much.”
However, despite his confidence, Evenepoel showed no sign of complacency with his opponent over the remaining four stages of the race. The UAE Tour wasn’t even halfway through, and Monday’s echelon race made it clear just how quickly Apple Cars can get thrown off if there’s a slight wind on such exposed terrain.
Also, there is always the risk of a crash, as Evenepoel knew all too well when he raced in the UAE in 2019, when he crashed and was abandoned on Stage 4. Evenepoel might win, but the game is far from over.
“I think Bilbao are a little bit better than Plap on the steeper climbs, but of course we’ll never forget Adam Yates (Emirates),” Evenepoel pointed out.
“Don’t forget to be in Jebel Hafeet [in 2020] Yates won by over 1 minute over Tadej Pogacar, so if he’s in a good mood today, he can try to break the game.
“But maybe the UAE will focus more on the stage win that day, you never know. Anyway, it’s better to be ahead than behind like I am now, but I hope all the good GC guys will be there on Sunday. I just want Needed to trust myself and my legs.”