Remco Evenepoel wont’t defend his 2022 La Vuelta Ciclista a España title in this year’s edition, but he has certainly salvaged something from the season’s final Grand Tour, winning a third stage on Thursday while buttressing his KOM lead. Evenepoel soloed 29 kilometres to take the hat trick. He has won seven career Grand Tours stages. Sepp Kuss wasn’t attacked by his teammates on Thursday and kept his red jersey.
Stage 18 ran 179 km from Pola de Allande to La Cruz de Linares. An early Cat. 2 led to a Cat. 1 directly in the middle of the parcours. On the other side came a Cat. 3 and then two ascents of Cat. 1 Puerto de la Cruz de Linares (8.3 km of 8.6 percent) for five climbs in total.
— Soudal Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team (@soudalquickstep) September 14, 2023
Evenepoel hadn’t had enough on Thursday, and he lit out with 12 others, including Egan Bernal and Damiano Caruso. The man in the blue polka dots scored maximum points on Cat. 2 Alto de las Estacas. By the time his merry band reached the central climb Puerto de San Lorenzo, it had 10:00 on the peloton and looked like a lock to carry the day. Remco gobbled up more KOM points at its crest.
The breakaway came to Cat. 3 Alto de Tenebredo with its ten minute advantage intact. On this 9.3 percent ascent, the fugitive group split. Again, the Belgian champion prevailed at the peak. Evenepoel, Bernal, Caruso and five others galloped towards Puerto de la Cruz de Linares I.
Stage 2 winner Andreas Kron attacked on Puerto de la Cruz de Linares I, once more streamlining the group. Evenepoel, Caruso and Brit Max Poole were able to follow, but Bernal is still not at his best. Kron himself couldn’t hang. Back in the peloton, first Movistar and then Bahrain-Victorious were stirred to action at the front. With 3 km still to climb, Evenepoel went solo, tipping over with the kind of gap that declared his intention to triumph.
Evenepoel started Puerto de la Cruz de Linares II with a 2:00 margin over Poole and Caruso. Mikel Landa seemed to have designs on Juan Ayuso’s fourth place in the GC, as he tried to skip away twice but to no avail. The top-6 climbed together, but there were small gaps at the line and Kuss doubled his lead over Vingegaard.
The sprinters will finally have their day again on Friday’s 19th stage.
78th La Vuelta Ciclista a España Stage 18
1) Remco Evenepoel (Belgium/Soudal-QuickStep) 4:47:37
2) Damiano Caruso (Italy/Bahrain-Victorious) +4:44
3) Andreas Kron (Denmark/Lotto-Dstny) +5:10
78th La Vuelta Ciclista a España GC
1) Sepp Kuss (USA/Jumbo-Visma) 65:31:27
2) Jonas Vingegaard (Denmark/Jumbo-Visma) +0:17
3) Primož Roglič (Slovenia/Jumbo-Visma) +1:08