Remco Evenepoel, stone in the shoe of Jumbo-Visma at the Vuelta a España

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Remco Evenepoel is proving a stubborn stone in Jumbo-Visma’s shoe so far at this Vuelta a España.

The bullish Belgian braced back against a Jumbo-Visma onslaught on Saturday’s eighth stage to remind Primož Roglič, Sepp Kuss, and Jonas Vingegaard he’s no grand tour one-hit wonder.

“Remco remains our major competitor. We have always said that, and nothing has changed, not even after a day when he loses thirty seconds,” Jumbo-Visma director Grischa Niermann told Het Laatste Nieuws after the stage Saturday.

“The Vuelta still has a long way to go. We are in a good position, but we are still a long way from there.”

Evenepoel bent but didn’t break on the Javalambre summit finish Friday.

Some thought blood was in the water when he ceded dozens of seconds on stage 6’s hulking summit – was the Belgian about to blow?

Yet 48 hours later, Evenepoel was driving the narrative of Saturday’s stage through the pro cyclist training enclave of Alicante. He parried Kuss’ attack on the grim slopes of the Xorret de Catí and kept a lid on top rivals Roglič and Vingegaard.

Evenepoel was so confident he claimed it was only a drowned-out race radio that stopped him sprinting for guaranteed victory.

“He was really super strong. For me today was more about following than attacking,” Vingegaard said of Evenepoel.

Resilient Remco

Evenepoel missed stage-victory but remained at the forefront on stage 8 on Saturday.

Evenepoel looked lost in a swarm of the super-teams Saturday.

He and Movistar’s Enric Mas faced-off against Jumbo-Visma’s trident of toppers and UAE Emirates’ triple threat of Juan Ayuso, João Almeida, and Marc Soler.

Rather than blow a hasty fuse like seasons past, the wiser and more moderated Evenepoel of 2023 kept a lid on it.

“When Sepp attacked, I kind controlled it because I didn’t want to close it immediately as I knew there was still about eight, ten minutes to climb,” Evenepoel said. “It seemed that Primož and Jonas also didn’t have the legs to go in the end.”

For now at least, Evenepoel is proving resilient in the race for red.

A handful of seconds over all of his rivals except Kuss makes the defending maillot rojo a reference point for the grand tour galácticos that dominated the betting-slips before the race.

Yet few expected Kuss to be leading GC after one week of racing, and the Coloradan makes for an ace up the sleeve of Jumbo-Visma.

Evenepoel will be most wary of reigning grand tour champions Roglič and Vingegaard, but cannot just ignore the “Eagle of Durango” and his 2:31 advantage on GC.

The similarly stubborn Ayuso and his top-rated UAE Emirates wingmen further complicate things for the ever-impressive Belgian.

Time trials and traps

Jumbo-Visma picked Pogačar apart in stage 11 of the 2022 Tour. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday’s summit finish to Cravaca de la Cruz and Tuesday’s time trial will likely see Evenepoel remain the stone in Jumbo-Visma’s boot as it looks to march through the season’s grand tours.

The form-book suggests the big-engine Belgian will gain minutes on Kuss and match, if not better, Roglič, Vingegaard, Mas, and Ayuso in the specialist’s 25.8km stage in and out of Valladolid.

“For me, I would like to keep red until the last stage,” Kuss said Saturday. “But I know my characteristics, especially in the time trial. It will be complicated.”

Evenepoel could continue to disrupt into the start of the second week, but there’s a question over how long he can continue to chew at Jumbo-Visma’s plans.

Roglič and Vingegaard both appear to be overcoming illnesses, and there’s murmurs aboard the Jumbo-Visma team bus they’re planning on Evenepoel to fade. The Belgian champ has got the uphill sprint to match Roglič and the time trial to match Vingegaard – but he’s got to do it all on his own.

“I didn’t really have my best day, hopefully it will come in the next two weeks,” Vingegaard said Saturday. “Evenepoel was strong, but we were able to follow and still won the stage. We are extremely happy.”

Jumbo-Visma made a habit of decimating recent Tours de France with blockbuster multi-rider ploys. Look to how it blew away Tadej Pogačar in the Granon stage of 2022 or at this summer’s ride to the Col de la Loze.

Stage 13 of this year’s Vuelta – a four-climb monster into the French Pyrenées and up to the Tourmalet – has “Jumbo-Visma masterplan” written all over it.

If Kuss, Roglič and Vingegaard haven’t shaken Evenepoel by then, the third week of this race will prove a barnstormer.

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