Remco Evenepoel tightened his grip on the Vuelta a Espana lead on Sunday as stage nine ended on a steep incline where South African Louis Meintjes won from a breakaway.
On a stage billed by the organisers as potentially decisive 22-year-old Belgian Evenepoel was 52sec faster then defending champion Primoz Roglic.
The main challenge of the day was the fifth and final climb, 4km long but at 12.5% average gradient.
On the 171km run from the Cantabrian coast to inland mountaintop of Les Praeres de Nava, Evenepoel increased his overall lead to 1min 12sec over Enric Mas and 1min 53sec over Jumbo-Visma’s Roglic.
Ineos pair Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov now sit around 5min off the lead, while Briton Simon Yates says he is riding into form and is 3min 08sec off the lead.
Meintjes was part of a ten-man breakaway that escaped on the first of the day’s five climbs. He eventually finished 1min 34sec ahead of the overall leader.
“It worked out perfectly today. I was quite lucky, my team controlled it quite well and I tried once and picked the right breakaway, so that was good teamwork,” said the winner.
The Quick-Step rider Evenepoel was set up brilliantly again by his tireless mentor, the world road race champion Julian Alaphilippe, who chased any escape attempts from rivals, before unleashing the prodigy on the final climb.
“I’m really impressed by Julian, and so happy with my team,” said Evenepoel.
“It really makes me emotional to see the guys working for me like that.”
Evenepoel accelerated with 2.5km of the last climb to go dropping everyone.
“I was super tired, but when my legs started hurting me like that I just thought, everyone is super tired. It’s also a question of power when it comes to those percentages and i have worked so much for that, these two past year have transformed me. I’m a new person.”
Two years ago the former footballer plunged into a ravine when racing in Italy, breaking his pelvis and spending long months in physio.”
Evenepoel and the rest of the peloton can enjoy Monday’s rest day after a long transfer across Spain to the Mediterranean coast ahead of a 30km individual time-trial where the leader could further turn the screw.
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