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Evenepoel Wins Volta ao Algarve Thanks to Dominant ITT

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

For a second-tier and 2.Pro race in late winter, the five-stage Volta ao Algarve boasted close to a Grand Tour lineup, with the likes of Remco Evenepoel, Geraint Thomas, Wout van Aert, Sepp Kuss, Ben Healy, and Tom Pidcock (to name just a few) at the start. As expected, Evenepoel won the hotly contested race, his third victory at the Algarve, but he and his Soudal Quick-Step team didn’t have it all their own way. The world time-trial champion won a dominant victory in the stage 3 ITT, 16 seconds ahead of the 21-year-old American Magnus Sheffield (INEOS Grenadiers), but they had probably expected two more stage wins. And Evenepoel would have taken stage 2 and Sunday’s final stage, both of which had summit finishes, if not for the defending Algarve champion Dani Martinez (BORA-hansgrohe) who outkicked the Belgian both times.

Evenepoel’s GC victory margin over Martinez was 43 seconds, 8 seconds fewer than the time he gained on the Colombian in the ITT, which illustrates how important that win was to the final outcome. Visma–Lease a Bike’s Jan Tratnik came third in the GC, 1:25 behind the winner. After the final stage, Evenepoel said that a gearing problem forced him to ride the final 20 km on the big chain ring, which meant that he had to work very hard on that final climb. Still, for someone targeting this year’s Tour de France, which has many climbs much more difficult than the ones he faced here and the world’s best climbers racing against him there, his failure to win one of the mountain stages will be cause for worry. But the Tour is still more than four months away, so there is plenty of time to reach peak fitness.

 “I’m very happy with the overall win,” Evenepoel said in a post-race interview. “Also my team handled a difficult situation in a very strong way today. We always kept calm, especially if you have a guy like Mikel Landa in the team. He has a lot of experience and he controls the guys.” Referring to the gearing problem, he said climbing on the big ring “killed my legs because I’m a guy that likes to have a high cadence. But with the big gear on the whole climb, I felt that my legs were out of energy (in the final sprint). Which is a pity because I think I could have won today.”

 The Belgian’s praise of teammate Landa, who is in his first season as a domestique rather than team leader, was based on the Spaniard’s strong riding after a long-range attack by Wout van Aert (Visma–Lease a Bike) decimated the Soudal support riders and left only Landa to pull his leader into a position where he could race for the stage victory. “The race became crazy and difficult for us but we stayed together, worked together and in the final, we saved it,” Landa told Eurosport after the race. “I enjoyed it. I worked hard and we got the victory so I’m happy.”

The race was also a success for van Aert who is preparing for the spring Classics and the Olympics. Despite having few ambitions in the Algarve other than testing his legs and improving his form, he won a surprising bunch-sprint victory in stage 3, outkicking Rui Olivera (UAE Team Emirates) and Marius Mayrhofer (Tudor Pro Cycling) to take his first road victory of the season. “Actually, it was a last-minute decision [to race for the win] but a great one,” Van Aert told journalists after the stage finish. “My goal was to stay out of trouble in these stages but I think that the approach to the sprint was way easier and safer than the first stage. We were in the front with the team and it was our goal to stay in a safe position and then I thought, why not?”

BORA will be delighted with Martinez’s performance. It means they will have a strong rider in the Giro d’Italia to face off against Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and a powerful climber to help team leader Primož Roglič climb those imposing Tour mountains. The former INEOS rider came to BORA at the beginning of this year as did Roglič, giving the German team what looks to be a strong one-two punch in the mountains.