Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel claimed his third victory in this year’s Vuelta a España with a solo attack on a mountainous stage 18 and Jumbo-Visma’s Sepp Kuss moved a step closer to winning his first Grand Tour.
Evenepoel blasted out of a breakaway group on the first of two climbs of the Puerto de La Cruz de Linares late in the 179km ride from Pola de Allande and was in a class of his own. The peloton, featuring the Jumbo-Visma trio of Kuss, Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic, finished nearly 10 minutes back, with Kuss emerging still in the maillot rojo after surviving the last big day in the mountains unscathed.
The American Kuss, who was shepherded through the dramatic Asturian landscape by his illustrious teammates, even extended his lead over the Tour de France champion, Vingegaard – who sat up in the final metres – to 17 seconds and is just over one minute ahead of the Giro d’Italia champion, Roglic, with both of them acting as super domestiques.
With a flat stage on Friday followed by a demanding penultimate stage on Saturday, Kuss is now favourite to retain the red jersey all the way to Madrid and, with the Jumbo-Visma trio well clear of the field, the Dutch squad look certain to become the first team to win all three Grand Tours in a year. “It’s getting closer and today was another important day,” Kuss said. “I knew I had to be really concentrated and put in a good performance to stay in the jersey.”
Evenepoel’s hopes of fighting the Jumbo-Visma riders for the overall title evaporated on stage 13 when he was dropped on the Col d’Aubisque and lost 27 minutes. But the 2022 champion has bounced back in stunning fashion by winning stage 14 and now soloing to victory on Thursday for what was the 50th professional win of his career.
“The legs were super good today and I was the strongest in the breakaway group so I just had to go for it today,” Evenepoel told Eurosport after wrapping up the king of the mountains title. “It was an amazing stage to win again.”
He finished 4min 44sec ahead of Italy’s Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) and 5:10 ahead of Denmark’s Andreas Kron (Lotto Dstny), who came third. Evenepoel said: “It was a super good opportunity to take the points for my jersey – I took all the points – and my third stage win is amazing to end the Vuelta with.”
Kuss had looked vulnerable to attacks from his own teammates in the past week, especially on stage 17 up the Altu de l’Angliru, but the American now has Vingegaard and Roglic seemingly working for him, with both appearing more than happy to do so. He even put in a late kick to cover an acceleration by Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) and Enric Mas (Movistar) to open up a bigger gap on the slowing Vingegaard.
Provided he avoids any mishaps on Friday and Saturday, Kuss will be a popular champion in Madrid. Vingegaard, who like Roglic, has been helped often by Kuss, warned there is still a tough stage on Saturday and that the team needed to keep fighting. “It’s sure nice to be able to pay Sepp back,” the Dane said. “He has done so much for me and Primoz. Saturday is a tough long stage though so we have to be careful.”