Vuelta leader Evenpoel wins summit on ‘perfect day’

PIORNAL, Spain: Remco Evenpoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team) hailed a “perfect day” at the Vuelta a Espana as he tightened his grip on the leader’s red jersey by winning Stage 18 with a late sprint to the summit of the Alto de Piornal on Thursday.

The 192km mountain stage from Trujillo ended with two category one climbs Alto de Piornal and it was here that the 22-year-old claimed victory.

He edged closest overall challenger Enric Mas after the pair caught stage leader Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma) with just under half a kilometer to go, extending their overall lead two minutes seven seconds over the Spaniard.

“It’s a perfect day, it was the most perfect day ever,” Evenpoel told reporters.

“Winning on top of a mountain with the red jersey is amazing. It was a tough stage and hard work at the end. I learned to always stay calm, even in the last kilometer, we were 15 or 20 seconds off the lead, but we caught him and I left with 200 meters to go.”

“It’s still not done, there’s a very difficult stage ahead and they’re going to attack me, but maybe now it’s easier to control because my legs feel really good.”

The day had started with a big crash in the peloton following which Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) retired and left a number of riders sporting rashes.

A massive breakaway ensues, with 38 riders leading the way until the first ascent of Piornal with just over 50 kilometers to go, where the group breaks up and Gesink retires ahead, leading until the final stages before to finish third.

Friday’s stage is a 138km loop starting and ending in Talavera de la Reina, with two category two Puerto de Pielago climbs before a flat finish.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)