Evenepoel rues pacing error despite victory in Giro d'Italia time trial
Remco Evenepoel punched the air as he wheeled through the finish area in Cesena, but it was almost as though he was trying to convince himself this had been more of a victory than a defeat. As expected, the Belgian claimed the stage 9 time trial of the Giro d'Italia and reclaimed the maglia rosa, but his winning margin was tighter than anyone had anticipated beforehand.
The 35km test was supposed to be the day Evenepoel placed a sizeable down payment on the final overall victory, but the predicted channelling of Miguel Indurain in Luxembourg never materialised. Instead, Evenepoel had to produce a late, late surge to deny Geraint Thomas (Ineos) stage victory by a single second, while Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) and Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) also limited their losses to two and 17 seconds, respectively.
As the Giro breaks for its first rest day, Evenepoel holds a 45-second lead over Thomas, with Roglic and Geoghegan Hart also within 50 seconds of his maglia rosa. Far from ending in Cesena, this Giro has only just begun.
Giro d'Italia stage 9: Remco Evenepoel wins time trial to take maglia rosa
Giro d'Italia GC standings
Time trial gives Evenepoel instant chance to remedy Giro d’Italia setback – Analysis
"I think the pacing plan of my time trial wasn't good," Evenepoel said. "I started too fast and the second part of my time trial wasn't good. My first part was good, but in the second part, with the headwind, I didn't feel good. It's sure that it's not the result I wanted to do, but I've won the stage, so that's good. But it's clear that it's not the best time trial I've done in my career."
Evenepoel had dominated his rivals in the short, opening time trial to Ortona last week, where he covered the course more than two seconds per kilometre quicker than Thomas, Geoghegan Hart and Roglic. There were few surprises when he covered the first 13km of the Cesena time trial 11 seconds than Thomas, but he admitted afterwards that he had been overly enthusiastic in the opening phase.
"I think I was a bit too excited and too motivated to start. I knew I was the last one of the big GC favourites to start, so I just wanted to go as fast as possible to the first time check," said Evenepoel, whose lead over Thomas was slashed to two seconds by the 23km mark. By the final check with 6km to go, he would fall behind the Welshman and Geoghegan Hart.
"I felt very good at the start, but then when I turned left it was a crosswind, and I struggled a bit with the wind. My legs were heavier there. I should have maybe pushed between 10 and 15 watts less in the start because in the end it was a 40-minute time trial, which is very long in today's cycling, so it wasn't the smartest pacing plan."
A white bike, two crashes and possible illness
Although Evenepoel finished the afternoon atop the podium, this was his second setback in as many days on the Giro after he conceded 14 seconds to Geoghegan Hart, Thomas and Roglic on the run-in to Fossombrone on stage 8.
The sheen of invulnerability that seemed to cover Evenepoel a week ago has dulled somewhat over the past 48 hours. In his press conference in Cesena, meanwhile, the world champion suggested a different kind of coating had been to blame for his travails on I Cappuccini the previous afternoon.
"It was probably a material mistake," Evenepoel said. "I was riding deep rims and my white bike, which is heavier than low rims and my black bike. The white paint is quite heavy on a bike. We did some calculations in the team, and we saw that it cost me a few seconds. But it was my mistake because I wanted to ride the white bike."
As well as acknowledging that his two crashes on the road to Salerno on stage 5 had affected him more than it initially appeared, Evenepoel also revealed that he had also carried mild cold symptoms into Sunday's time trial.
"I had a lot of liquid coming out of the wounds, so maybe the wounds are a bit deeper than we first thought," he said. "And I think you can also hear that my nose is a bit blocked. I'm quite light, I'm quite skinny in terms of fat percentage, so the rainy conditions are not my favourite conditions. I have to be careful not to become sick exactly. Let's touch wood that it's not a virus. We will see."
All told Evenepoel's effort in Cesena felt like a microcosm for the opening week of his Giro, with a fast start stalling unexpectedly, though he still finished the day just about on top. Staying there all the way to Rome against this opposition – and on this terrain – will be a challenge unlike any he has encountered to date.
"Tomorrow is a day to recover from it, then we will see day by day towards the end of the week," Evenepoel said. "It will be a hard second part of the Giro, but we're now only halfway. But I have the pink jersey and I've won two stages. That's all good and now we hope not to become sick, that's clear."