Remco Evenepoel put on a dominant performance to win the 18th stage of the Vuelta on Thursday, with overall leader Sepp Kuss holding on to the red jersey by crossing the line ahead of his closest rivals.
Kuss moved closer to becoming the first American to win a Grand Tour in nearly a decade by staying safely within the peloton throughout the 179-kilometer route that took riders through an unprecedented mountain pass at La Cruz de Linares. He prevailed in a late sprint at the top to increase his overall lead over Jumbo-Visma teammate Jonas Vingegaard to 17 seconds ahead of the final stages this weekend.
“(It’s) getting closer,” Kuss said. “Tomorrow is definitely an easier stage but we have to stay focused, and then for Stage 20 it will be a really long and hard stage. We’re out of the big mountains but there’s always some tough ones.”
Evenepoel, the defending Vuelta champion, moved to the front by himself with less than 30 kilometers to go and was never challenged again on his way to his 50th professional victory.
“I felt I was the strongest on the group, I didn’t have to waste any time and I just had to go. The legs were super good today,” he said. “It’s amazing to finish La Vuelta like this. After my off day in Formigal and Tourmalet, I just had to turn the page and go for stages. I won three of the most beautiful stages from this Vuelta and I take the mountain jersey.”
A poor run in the 13th stage had ended Evenepoel’s chances to contend for a second straight Vuelta victory. The strong finish on Thursday moved him to 13th place overall, more than 27 minutes behind the leaders. He had started the day nearly 40 minutes off the pace.
“It has been an amazing Vuelta even though the GC (general classification) plan didn’t work out,” Evenepoel said. “I think we can be very proud. To finish with such a good feeling and with such legs shows that I’m still improving and I just had a bit of a bad week in the second week. We should just be happy and proud.”
? Another episode of the unrivalled Evenepoel show at the premiere of La Cruz de Linares!
⚔️ The favourites saved their fireworks for the final kilometres.
❤️ Sepp Kuss is closer to the final victory.
? Relive the stage NOW 1️⃣8️⃣! pic.twitter.com/J1jrXq0FhN
— La Vuelta (@lavuelta) September 14, 2023