Whatever the reason, the 23-year-old Soudal Quick-Step rider easily won the UAE Tour without winning a single stage. You might recall that Evenepoel sent a message to Pogačar’s Instagram page that read “Stop winning, thank you,” in a tongue-in-cheek comment on the Slovenian’s apparently insatiable hunger for victories. The two young champions are obviously very aware of each other, though it is unclear when racing fans will see them race against each other in a Grand Tour.
Pogačar certainly seems eager to face his rival. Last year, after the world championship time trial, the UAE Team Emirates leader even sent a challenge to his Belgian rival via the media. “If you win the Vuelta, you have to come to the Tour. That is a logical next step,” Pogačar told Evenepoel via journalists. “If everyone rides the Tour next year, it will be very interesting.”
But Evenepoel is not riding in this year’s Tour. He has chosen the Giro d’Italia instead. For a while, it appeared that they would meet in the UAE Tour, which is Pogačar’s team’s home race, but the Slovenian decided to race in Andalusia instead. And his Belgian rival is apparently not about to let anyone dictate his strategy or his program.
He took the lead in the UAE Tour after stage three, by finishing second on the punishing climb to the finish at Jebel Jais, 14 seconds behind Movistar’s Einer Augusto Rubio. And he sealed the victory with another second place in the seventh, and final, stage, another summit finish, coming in 10 seconds behind Pogačar’s teammate Adam Yates.
King of the mountain! @AdamYates7 @AbuDhabiSC pic.twitter.com/1xFxzPiIP0
— UAE Tour Official (@uae_tour) February 26, 2023
All in all, it looked like a comfortable GC win for Evenepoel, who finished 59 seconds ahead of Australian Luke Plapp (INEOS Grenadiers) and 1 minute ahead of Yates. However, on the final climb of the race, 10.7km at an average slope of 6.8%, Yates shook him off quite easily, as Evenepoel appeared to suffer in the 40° Centigrade (104° Fahrenheit) heat, and only made up ground when the gradient flattened out.
After the stage, Evenepoel slumped to the ground and did not look like someone who had just won a race. “It was hard out there,” he admitted. “I thought Yates was going to stay on my wheel and then jump in the last few hundred meters, and I would have been happy with that. But in the end I had to go over the limit to keep up with him.” Nevertheless, he was delighted to record his first race victory as the world road race champion.
And speaking of statements, last year’s Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard wanted to remind people that there are other champion riders on the circuit than Pogačar and Evenepoel. And his statement was as loud as anyone’s. After the first stage of the four-stage O Gran Camiño was canceled due to snow, the Danish Jumbo-Visma rider won all three remaining stages, two in the mountains and an individual time trial. His margin of victory in the GC was 53 seconds over Movistar’s Ruben Guerreiro and 1min 25sec over Jesus Herrada of Cofidis.
Was Pogačar listening?