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Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) held off several attacks from GC rival Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) to survive the hilly final stage of the Volta a Catalunya in Barcelona and claim the overall win.
The Slovenian filled in a rare gap in his stage racing palmarès with his 18th GC win, striking the first blow in the rivalry that will see them go head-to-head at the Giro d’Italia in May.
He weathered several accelerations to hang on to Evenepoel, the pair racing towards the finish together after leaving the peloton behind at 28km to go. Roglič led the way down the final descent and into the final kilometre, while Evenepoel jumped from the wheel inside the final 100 metres to claim his second stage win of the race.
“Super happy. It was a tough one,” Evenpoel said after the stage. “As I mentioned this morning, it was going to be really hard to drop Primož on a course like this. I think we proved that we were the strongest again. My team took a lot of responsibility since the start and also on the laps, so I think we deserved this one. It was a nice battle with Primož and I’m happy I could beat him in the sprint.
“He is one of the strongest riders in the world, he’s in a really good shape, and when he’s in top shape he’s maybe the best rider in the world. I knew if there was one guy who would follow me it was him. Like I said already it’s easier to defend a jersey than attack for a jersey, so big grade to him. A big week from him here, and for myself, I’m super happy to take this beautiful stage here in Barcelona.
“I knew I was good so I was hoping to come here for the podium and to win some stages. In the end, to come second in the GC with only six seconds is like the same time, no? It’s almost the same. If you see how strong we were compared to all the others behind us, I think one of us was meant to be the winner of this beautiful race. I’m happy that my team was on point and I think that we showed that we were maybe overall the strongest team during this week.”
53 seconds later, Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) rounded out the podium, having earlier been the only man to match the attack by Evenepoel and Roglič. He secured fourth overall behind teammate João Almeida, while the peloton, including his GC rival Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) trailed in at 58 seconds down.
The final GC would see Roglič triumph by six seconds from Evenepoel, the slimmest margin between the top two since Richie Porte beat Alejandro Valverde to victory in 2015. Almeida rounded out the final podium at 2:11 down.
On the final climb of the race, Evenpoel secured the mountain classification by one point from Roglič to go with his young riders jersey, while Roglič would take home the overall and points titles.
How it unfolded
As ever, the week-long race concluded with a the 136km final stage in Barcelona and a circuit race around Barcelona’s hilly Montjuïc Park, where six ascents of the Alt del Castell de Montjuïc (2.7km at 4.7%) lay in wait to stage the final battle between Primož Roglič and Remco Evenepoel.
An early breakaway of nine managed to battle over the first climb of the day, the early Alt de Begues. Richard Carapaz and his EF Education-EasyPost teammate Simon Carr were joined in the move by Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Carlos Verona (Movistar), Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën), Tsgabu Grmay (Jayco-AlUla), David de la Cruz (Astana Qazaqstan), and Mikel Bizkarra (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Back in the peloton it was Soudal-QuickStep doing the work on behalf of Evenepoel, who would have plans for when the race hit Montjuïc Park. The Belgian squad held the gap at around 1:30 on the flat run to the finishing circuit.
When the riders reached Montjuïc for the first time and hit the final 50km, the gap was down to a minute as QuickStep continued to push the pace and slim down the peloton.
Up front, Hayter was the first to drop from the break on the second lap of the six, though at that point – with 35km remaining – only 25 seconds separated the front of the race and the peloton.
De la Cruz attacked off the front to lead solo on the third passage through the finish line, though it would only be a matter of time before the GC battle erupted behind. The catch came at 28km from the line just before the third peak of the Alt del Castell de Montjuïc, with Evenepoel launching immediately afterwards.
Once again, only Roglič could go with him, the pair breaking clear on the way down before Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) came across. The group had 20 seconds on the peloton the next time through the finish, though with three laps still left to run Evenepoel would hold fire on his next acceleration a while longer.
The trio’s advantage would only extend over the course of the next lap and into the final 20km, growing up towards 40 seconds as no one team took control behind. Evenepoel gave it a push on the penultimate ascent at 13km out, though Roglič had the measure of the move even if Soler couldn’t keep up.
As the two leaders took the bell for the final lap, they enjoyed an advantage of 20 seconds on Soler and 50 seconds on the peloton, leaving them free to contest one final battle over the last lap of the race.
There would be no big move from Evenepoel on the final ascent, though he did capture the mountain classification title after leading the way over the top. Further back, Soler was in danger of being caught by the peloton, with Almeida bizarrely leading the chase against his own teammate.
However, the Spaniard would hold the group off to come through for third place at the line. 53 seconds earlier, Roglič had led the way down the final descent and towards the finish, with Evenepoel glued to his wheel before hitting the wind to launch his victorious sprint.
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