Cycling

Companions tell how Remco Evenepoel handled stress in the last days of the Vuelta a España

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Remco Evenepoel was under pressure but did not collapse in the closing days of his historic victory at the Vuelta a España in September.

Two of his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl teammates recalled how the pressure was building as Evenepoel pedaled ever closer to Belgium’s first Grand Tour victory since the 1970s.

Everything reached its peak in the penultimate stage through the mountains north of Madrid.

speaking to Het Nieuwsbladhis teammate Ilan Van Wilder said the tension was palpable heading into the final decisive mountain stage of the 2022 Vuelta.

“That day was a big contrast to the rest of the stages,” Van Wilder said. Het Nieuwsblad. “Before that trip, the bus was very quiet and you could feel the stress. He also noted the release after the ending. A brick seemed to have fallen from our shoulders.

“Remco said afterwards that he was very nervous, but I have to say I didn’t experience it that way,” he said. “To be honest, I didn’t notice any stress with him. He still plays his music full blast, like he does every day.”

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Although Evenepoel held a comfortable 2:07 lead over second-placed Enric Mas going into the penultimate stage, the team had its radar up on the climb-packed route over the Sierra de Guadarrama.

That is the same ground where Tom Dumoulin lapped Fabio Aru in the 2015 Vuelta, and the team did not want to see a repeat of that nightmare scenario.

Everyone on the team felt the pressure to deliver. Another teammate, Louis Vervaeke, said everyone was nervous.

“I had a lot of stress before the last mountain stage,” said Vervaeke. Het Nieuwsblad. “I was very afraid of failure of not being up to the task. That Mas would attack us and that Remco would be cut off. The stakes were high and I have to admit he was very nervous on that trip.”

The stage unfolded with a great breakaway won by Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), so Evenepoel only had to keep an eye on Mas.

The Spaniard tried but failed to shake the Belgian, and Evenepoel collapsed in tears as he wore the red jersey to Madrid for his historic win.

Vervaeke had a ringside seat to how Evenepoel handled and even enjoyed the pressure that came with the final day’s battle.

“I was sitting behind Remco on the bus and then I noticed he was a bit quieter than usual. But as a leader, he has hidden it very well,” he said.

Vervaeke compared him to his former teammate Mathieu van der Poel, who also thrives under heavy pressure.

“What surprises me is that these guys really like the game,” he said. Het Nieuwsblad. “You certainly had that same feeling with Mathieu. Also in training it was not about numbers or blocks, but about hurting each other.

“What amazes me, above all, is how cool these guys are under pressure. You should not underestimate how much pressure is put on them. It makes a big difference how they deal with it.”

Evenepoel will see even more pressure in 2023. After winning the world title, he will enter next season in the spotlight of every race he starts.

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