ESTEPONA, Spain – With bruises and cuts showing through a big gash on the side of his shorts, Remco Evenepoel got back on his bicycle and quickly rejoined the peloton.
It was just a scare for the young Belgian rider, who overcame a fall with about 45 kilometers (28 miles) to go in Stage 12 of the Spanish Vuelta to keep his overall lead entering the second half of the final Grand Tour race of the year.
Olympic champion Richard Carapaz won the stage with a dominant run on the final climb to earn his first Vuelta victory. The rider from team Ineos Grenadiers hit the handlebar of his bicycle a couple of times to celebrate his fourth Grand Tour stage win.
The 2019 Giro d’Italia champion launched his attack with about two kilometers (1.2 miles) to go to become the first Ecuadorean to win a Vuelta stage.
“We had the focus now on trying to win a stage, and I’m really happy with that,” the 29-year-old Carapaz said. “I knew I had one move left and I made the most out of it. I’m very happy. I have to enjoy it.”
Wilco Kelderman was second at the end of the stage, nine seconds behind Carapaz, and Marc Soler was third, 24 seconds off the lead.
After changing his bicycle, Evenepoel complained to race officials about some of the motorbikes that were in front of him before he crashed.
“It’s just my leg but it’s fine, I think. My bike is much worse than myself,” the 22-year-old rider from team Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl said after the race. “It was a super slippery corner. The motorbikes were slipping as well and slowing down so that’s why I wanted to cut the corner but it was a bit too much.”
Evenepoel showed no signs of being bothered by his right leg injury following the fall, and successfully fended off the breakaway attempts by his closest challenger, three-time defending champion Primoz Roglic.
“I felt good on the climb. I knew it was a climb to just follow and in the last hundreds of meters I just went all out because I felt I still had something left,” Evenepoel said. “It was a good feeling, that’s what’s important. Except for the crash, it was the scenario we wanted. Everybody was strong. Now I need to heal the wounds and try to recover tomorrow as it will be a sprint stage.”
Evenepoel maintained a lead of 2 minutes, 41 seconds over Roglic in the general classification, and was more than three minutes ahead of Enric Mas.
Evenepoel has held the leader’s red jersey since the sixth stage.
Riders will face a mostly flat Stage 13 from Ronda to Montilla in southern Spain.