Evenepoel is ready for the Vuelta title as Carapaz enters stage 20

:Belgian Remco Evenepoel seemed poised to claim his maiden Vuelta e Espana title after successfully defending his overall lead on Saturday’s penultimate stage, which Olympic champion Richard Carapaz won with a brilliant individual performance.

Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s Evenepoel held a more than two-minute lead over Enric Mas ahead of Stage 20 and had little trouble getting through the day after his Spanish rival failed to close the gap despite finishing fifth.

“I don’t know what’s going on in my head and my body right now. It’s unbelievable,” said Evenepoel, who was overcome with emotion after crossing the finish line in sixth place.

“All the criticism and bad comments I’ve received over the past year I think have responded with my pedals. I’ve worked so hard to get here in the best possible shape. Winning this Vuelta now is just incredible.”

The 181km ride from Moralzarzal to Puerto de Navacerrada, the final mountain stage of this year’s race, witnessed a battle between Carapaz and Sergio Higuita on the final climb, but it was the Ecuadorian who accelerated with 7km to go.

Team DSM’s Thymen Arensman was second while UAE Team Emirates’ Juan Ayuso was third.

Carapaz, winner of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, also sealed victory in the mountains classification with his third stage win of the year.

“I made that day my goal, I knew it was very important. We knew it was a super tough stage because so many things were at play, especially in the general classification,” said the Ineos Grenadiers rider.

“I rode my way, was smart and made my moves when needed. Then I enjoyed a lot of support from the breakaways. The truth is I’m very moved…fighting for the king of the mountains was one of my goals.”

The three-week race concludes on Sunday with a flat 96.7km ride from Las Rozas to Madrid.