Norway take gold medal lead at world road cycling titles

Remco Evenepoel put some tough times behind him with the biggest win of his career.

Two years ago, he flew off a bridge in a horrific accident that left him hospitalized for several days. A year ago, his loyalty to his teammates was questioned by a great cyclist.

All was forgotten when Evenepoel, 22, of the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team, won the Spanish Vuelta for his first Grand Tour victory.

“It’s history for the team, for my country, for myself,” Evenepoel said. “I think we can be really proud of what we’ve done in the last three weeks.”

It was a decisive victory for Evenepoel, who became the first Belgian to win a major three-week event since Johan De Muynck won the Giro d’Italia in 1978. It was also sweet redemption for his father, Patrick Evenepoel, who finished 113th out of 114 riders in the Vuelta in 1993.

Evenepoel crossed the finish line one last time wearing the leader’s red jersey during the final festive stage through the streets of the Spanish capital, then received a hug and a kiss from his partner before lifting his bike overhead. above his heads in front of his teammates.

“Now it’s really sinking in, it’s really official,” he said. “Already yesterday, the emotions were quite strong. We were indeed there but we still had to finish the race safely and in the right direction. We enjoyed it as much as possible and now we can really enjoy it.

Colombian Juan Sebastian Molano of UAE Team Emirates won the final stage 21 in Madrid, ahead of Mads Pedersen and Pascal Akermann.

Evenepoel, who had held the red jersey since taking the lead on stage 6 and overcame a brutal crash on stage 12, had secured the victory by fending off Enric Mas and the rest of his opponents during the last competitive stage.

Evenepoel finished 2 minutes and 2 seconds ahead of Mas from the Movistar team. Another Spaniard finished third, with Juan Ayuso finishing nearly five minutes off the lead with UAE Team Emirates.

Evenepoel didn’t have to worry about three-time defending champion Primoz Roglic, who had to retire due to injuries sustained in a crash towards the end of stage 16. 2018 Vuelta winner Simon Yates , who was one of several runners who had to forfeit during the race due to positive coronavirus tests.

For Evenepoel, it was about using his pedals to answer his doubters and critics, including Eddy Merckx, the Belgian great who said last year that the youngster was unwilling to ride for his team.

Also last year, Evenepoel was thrown into the barriers during stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia, and the year before he survived a nasty accident in which he fell several meters (yards) from the side of a bridge and was hospitalized with a broken pelvis.

This year’s Vuelta marked an emotional farewell to Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde, 2009 champion, and Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali, winner of the 2010 Vuelta. Both are about to retire and were greeted with a hedge of honor by other cyclists.