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No regrets for Evenepoel with second on Fóia summit finish at Volta ao Algarve

Close to the summit of the Alto do Fóia climb, a statue of Remco Evenepoel commemorates his 2020 breakthrough win on the Volta ao Algarve’s toughest ascent, his left arm punching the sky in a timeless reminder of his first-ever victory on a mountaintop finish.

Four years on in the same scenario, as dense mist enshrouded the top of the exposed, treeless climb and a vicious Atlantic wind and occasional heavy rain shower left race followers shivering, the Belgian could not repeat his single-arm victory salute.

Instead, the Soudal-QuickStep rider had to settle for crossing the line in second place behind Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe), following a two-up sprint duel with the Colombian and defending champion of the Volta ao Algarve.

But despite his defeat, as he talked to journalists while warming down, sheltered from the summit’s gale-force winds and cold by the portico of a local craft shop, Evenepoel singled out the multiple positives of the day. These ranged from a performance where his team made all the running in the final 20 kilometres, and a second place overall, four seconds behind Martínez. 

It leaves him excellently placed to bid for the top spot in the weekend’s key stages, a time trial on Sunday and the ascent of the short, sharp Alto de Malhao on Sunday.

“I’m happy with second, I’m pleased. The team did a lot of really good work,” he told journalists. 

“With the headwind and this strong breakaway, it all worked out a bit differently to how I’d imagined.” From that breakaway, the last survivor, longstanding 2023 Giro d’Italia Andreas Leknessund (Uno-X Mobility), was only caught seven kilometres from the line.

“The strongest guys were up there at the finish, and the only error I made was launching my final sprint too early, with 300 metres to go. But I wanted to surprise the other guys.

“But losing just a few seconds of time bonus is no catastrophe. The last two stages of the race are both very good for me, and now I just have to get through Friday’s stage so I’m well placed for the weekend.”

Evenepoel paid tribute to how Martínez had played out the finish, putting him in the wind after ‘closing the door’ on him in the sprint. “That wasn’t a problem, it was intelligent of him,” he said.

“If I’d been on [teammate] Mikel’s [Landa] wheel rather than on Sepp Kuss’, maybe I’d have had a better chance today. But that’s the kind of automatism Mikel is going to learn, both for the last stage [also an uphill finish] and for the summer.

“I had tried to put in a second acceleration, but Martínez is a bit more explosive than I am, particularly when it’s a slight uphill sprint. I had the feeling that I was getting even closer in the last metres, but he was just stronger today.”

If Landa was slightly out of synch in the final dash for the line, the Basque nonetheless was present exactly where he needed to be at the summit of the climb, in what is his first ever stage race with his new team.

Long-standing Soudal-QuickStep racers Mattia Cattaneo and James Knox were also present in the crunch closing kilometres, with Knox in particular doing a lot of work on the Foia. 

“Cattaneo and Knox did a great job,” Evenepoel recognised afterwards, “and we could see the team is definitely working well.

“It’s sad that we’re the only ones working all day and then not being able to finish it off. But that’s just the way it is, you can’t win everything. We have to be content with what we have done.”

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
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