The young winner is riding for history. It has been clear since he powered through the Junior ranks and went on to claim major professional wins such as the Clásica San Sebastián at 19 years old. But 2022 propels the young Belgian star into a new dimension, with a Monument in the Spring (Liège-Bastogne-Liège), a second success in the Basque classic and now the overall standings of La Vuelta.
In Madrid, he stood on the overall podium ahead of two Spaniards, Enric Mas (Movistar Team) and the 19-year-old sensation Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), the second teenager to finish in the top 3 of a Grand Tour, 118 years after Henri Cornet won the Tour de France at 19 years and 355 days.
“This is the best year I could have imagined and wished for,” Evenepoel said after crossing the line at Puerto de Navacerrada (stage 20) in tears, on Saturday, also mentioning his upcoming wedding at the end of the year in addition to his successes on the bike. Over the iconic climbs of the Sierra de Guadarrama, Evenepoel had all but sealed a Grand Tour win with historic repercussions for him, his team, his country and the whole world of cycling. “This is the most beautiful day of my life,” he added.
At 22 years old, the Belgian star is the youngest winner of the Spanish Grand Tour since 1961. He is also the first rider in the history of Patrick Lefevere’s team to win a three-week event. Among other records, he becomes the first rider to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Clásica San Sebastián and La Vuelta in the same year. Remco Evenepoel is the 18th Belgian winner of a Grand Tour, the first since Johan De Muynck in 1978.
Bennett and Jumbo-Visma share the first prizes
Evenepoel’s successful three-week ride began close to home, in the Netherlands. In Utrecht, the local heroes of Jumbo-Visma shone with a dominant performance in the opening team time trial. On Dutch soil, Robert Gesink was the first wearer of La Roja. The boys from Jumbo-Visma went on to share the honours of the leader’s jersey in the following days. Mike Teunissen and Edoardo Affini enjoyed it while Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) powered to two sprint victories in Utrecht and Breda.
🇪🇸 #LaVuelta22— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) August 21, 2022
Goosebumps in B𝐫𝐞𝐝a! ❤️😍 pic.twitter.com/Uy0mi12EBb
Eventually, it was time for Primož Roglič to power to the lead, as the race headed to Spain for stage 4, with an uphill finish in Laguardia where the Slovenian 3-time defending winner asserted his authority. Jumbo-Visma and their leader looked primed to take more Spanish success. But the road to Madrid was still a long one, and Evenepoel would quickly show his strength.
On stage 6, the first summit finish saw the young Belgian rise to the overall lead. A couple of days later, on the ascent of Collau Fancuaya, he was the best rider from the GC contenders, again. But on both occasions, it was Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) who took the stage win through the Asturian fog.
Evenepoel, Pedersen and Carapaz rise to glory
After another display of strength on the gruelling slopes of Les Praeres (stage 9), where Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) claimed victory from the break, Evenepoel eventually took the stage win in the individual time trial of Alicante, 48’’ ahead of Roglič. It was the first time the Slovenian Olympic Champion didn’t win a time trial in a Spanish race (4 victories in La Vuelta and as many in Itzulia Basque Country).
Was it already the sign that Roglič’s reign in the Spanish Grand Tour was about to come to an end? The Slovenian was 2’41’’ down on GC half-way through the race, but by the end of the second week, he had gained more than a minute back on his Belgian rival over the Andalusian summits of Sierra de la Pandera and Sierra Nevada. Roglic was ready for more battles but he hit the deck and had to abandon after a fierce attack in the streets of Tomares (stage 16).
Following an opposite trajectory, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) went flying over the summits leading to Peñas Blancas (stage 12), Sierra de la Pandera (stage 14) and Puerto de Navacerrada (stage 20), conquering three stages and the polka-dot jersey as the winner of the KOM standings after a subpar beginning to La Vuelta that quickly took him out of the GC battle.
Among the other heroes of the past three weeks, Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) dominated three sprints (stages 13, 16 and 19) and took the green jersey of the points standings. The other stage winners of the race were Marc Soler (stage 5), Jesús Herrada (7), Kaden Groves (11), Thymen Arensman (15), Rigoberto Urán (17) and eventually Sebastián Molano, in Madrid, where Evenepoel could finally savour his triumph.