Evenepoel Climbs to Stage 14 Victory in Larra-Belagua
Following yesterday’s epic battle on Col du Tourmalet and Jonas Vingegaard’s stage victory and advancement in the general classification, Saturday’s stage 14 of La Vuelta a España 2023 presented its riders with another opportunity to compete in mountainous territory.
Stage 14 was a concentrated mountain effort that featured two Hors Categorie mountains and one Category One climb on a 156.2-kilometer route from Sauveterre-de-Bearn in France to Larra-Belagua in Spain. The route included the Col Hourcere (HC; 11.6 km; 8.3% average incline), the Puerto de Larrau (French-Spanish border; HC; 15.1 km; 7.8% average incline) and culminated with a finish on the Puerto de Belagua (Cat 1; 9.4 km; 6.3% average incline).
Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) remained general classification leader before today’s stage 14. Teammate Primoz Roglic was second, while the Jumbo-Visma dominance in the rankings was further underpinned by Jonas Vingegaard’s advancement to third place.
Soudal-QuickStep’s defending Vuelta a Espana Champion Remco Evenepoel suffered in yesterday’s stage and lost valuable time in the general classification. He is rumored to have cried in his hotel room after the remarkable disappointment in yesterday’s stage that came after the Belgian rider had spent months on preparing for La Vuelta.
HOW THE STAGE UNFOLDED
The beginning of stage 14 was characterized by numerous breakaway attempts. Following his meltdown in yesterday’s stage 13, Remco Evenepoel had been reborn and revitalized overnight and launched a courageous attack to rebuild his pride.
Eventually a large breakaway group was formed that featured 22 riders. Beyond Evenepoel, the group featured riders such as Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious), Jonathan Castroviejo (Ineos-Grenadiers), Michael Storer (Groupama-FDJ), Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Neilson Oliveira (Movistar Team), Ruben Fernandez (Cofidis), and Romain Bardet (Team DSM).
The front group built a significant lead, but on the Col Hourcere the main peloton - headed by UAE Team Emirates - increased its pace and started reducing the gap to the breakaway hopefuls. With five kilometers left of the first Hors Category climb of the day, their advantage was down to 03:30 minutes.
Egan Bernal (Ineos-Grenadiers), Geraint Thomas (Ineos-Grenadiers) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) were all dropped from the peloton. Though he finished second in the general classification of this year’s Giro d’Italia, Thomas is now more than thirty minutes behind race leader Sepp Kuss in La Vuelta.
Many riders had already been dropped from the peloton though they were only contesting the first mountain climb of the stage.
Evenepoel and Bardet both attacked shortly before the top of the Col Hourcere. Evenepoel won the sprint for the Best Climber Classification and the duo courageously continued their attack on the descent that followed. They built a lead of more than half a minute.
As the Evenepoel-Bardet duo entered the Puerto de Larrau climb they had a lead of more than a minute over a group of chasers that featured Castroviejo, Caruso, Lopez, Storer, Kämna, and Chris Hamilton. The main favorites group was now more than four minutes behind.
Storer initiated a chase on the Puerto de Larrau, which is a Hors Category climb with sections of up to 14.4 percent incline. He was now approximately one minute behind Evenepoel and Bardet. Behind him Mattia Cattaneo (Soudal-QuickStep) and others were chasing.
In the main peloton group UAE Team Emirates riders were still setting a fast pace, while Jumbo-Visma riders were monitoring the situation closely. Juan Ayuso attacked for UAE Team Emirates and the other GC favorites responded. De La Cruz (Astana) tried his luck and Joans Vingegaard reacted.
Ayuso accelerated again but failed to break free of the other GC favorites.
Evenepoel was first across the top of the Puerto de Larrau. He was followed by Bardet and then Storer.
Meanwhile the Jumbo-Visma team had moved to the front of the main peloton. They were now more than six minutes behind the Evenepoel-Bardet front duo.
Bahrain-Victorious took over the lead in the main peloton to make the race as hard as possible for the GC opponents. However, they were quickly replaced by Jumbo-Visma’s Attila Valter.
With ten kilometers left of today’s stage 14 of La Vuelta a Espana 2023 the Evenepoel-Bardet front duo was approaching the final climb of the day: the Puerto de Belagua, which would lead the riders to the finish line. They now had an advantage of more than eight minutes over the general classification favorites that were chasing them from the main peloton group.
Evenepoel was still doing most of the work in the front duo group and Bardet was very rarely seen at the front. Bardet was the best climber on paper, but Evenepoel was the best sprinter. Bardet had had a very disappointing 2023 season so far and was looking to impress his employers, the team sponsors – and the French fans that remained.
With five kilometers left of the climb to the finish line, Evenepoel was still doing all the work at the front of the attacking duo. This was still the case with four kilometers to the finish line. And bam! Bardet got dropped shortly after the four-kilometer mark. Evenepoel was now on his way to victory in one of the most difficult mountain stages of this year’s Vuelta. Bardet was being humiliated while Evenepoel was rebuilding his status as the King of Cycling.
Evenepoel crossed the finish line in solo fashion as winner of stage 14 of Vuelta a Espana 2023.
There were no significant changes to the general classification following today’s stage although Evenepoel advanced somewhat in the rankings after having been nearly thirty minutes behind race leader Kuss after yesterday’s breakdown.
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