Vuelta a España Review: After having a few days to ponder Remco Evenepoel’s highly clinical and impressive dismantling of his competition to take his first grand tour victory at La Vuelta a España, Spencer Martin wanted to go back through the defining stages to break down where exactly he won the three-week race over the now three-time runner-up Enric Mas.

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The first of many Grand Tour wins for Remco Evenepoel?

At first glance, Evenepoel won due to his superiority across every discipline and defending champion Primoz Rolgič arriving slightly undercooked before crashing out on stage 16. However, under closer inspection, while Evenepoel was by far the strongest rider against the clock in the race’s two time trials, he actually lost time on Vuelta’s mountain stages to the runner-up Enric Mas. And considering he was often either isolated or left with only a single teammate beside him in some of the most critical points in the race, Evenepoel’s win was more of a masterclass in taking time during the time trial set pieces and then simply defending on the open-road stages where, at least in theory, he was vulnerable due to his mid-race crash and lack of GC-specific team.

The TT was important for the win

Fortunately for Evenepoel and his future chances, this is an extremely potent strategy for winning multiple grand tours due to the time advantage it gives a rider in the TTs and the fact that modern-day climbing has turned into a steady-state time trial effort. This means the sky is truly the limit for the 22-year-old Belgian, just as long as his classics-focused Quick-Step team can bring in the necessary GC reinforcements before he lines up a more star-studded grand tour.

Did the others have any chance?

To help us digest the end result, and attempt to understand what exactly happened and where mistakes/winning moves were made, I’ve isolated every stage where the top three won/lost time relative to each other and how much time they won/lost.

Final GC Top Ten:
1) Remco Evenepoel +0
2) Enric Mas +2’02
3) Juan Ayuso +4’57
4) Miguel Ángel López +5’56
5) João Almeida +7’24
6) Thymen Arensman +7’45
7) Carlos Rodríguez +7’57
8) Ben O’Connor +10’30
9) Rigoberto Urán +11’04
10) Jai Hindley +12’01
*These calculations are filtering out the time won/lost after Evenepoel sat up to celebrate on stage 21

Where Time Was Won/Lost
Stage 1 Team Time Trial:
Remco Evenepoel +0
Juan Ayuso +19
Enric Mas +29

Stage 4 Uphill Finish:
Enric Mas +0
Remco Evenepoel +4
Juan Ayuso +11

Stage 6 Summit Finish:
Remco Evenepoel +0
Enric Mas +3
Juan Ayuso +46

Stage 9 Summit Finish:
Remco Evenepoel +0
Juan Ayuso +34
Enric Mas +44

Stage 10 Time Trial:
Remco Evenepoel +0
Enric Mas +1’51
Juan Ayuso +2’17

Stage 14 Summit Finish:
Enric Mas +0
Juan Ayuso +20
Remco Evenepoel +20

Stage 15 Summit Finish:
Enric Mas +0
Juan Ayuso +38
Remco Evenepoel +42

Stage 17 Summit Finish:
Remco Evenepoel +0
Enric Mas +0
Juan Ayuso +2

Stage 18 Summit Finish:
Remco Evenepoel +0
Enric Mas +6
Juan Ayuso +23

Stage 20 Summit Finish:
Juan Ayuso +0
Enric Mas +4
Remco Evenepoel +6

When the Podium Won/Lost Time Relative to Evenepoel:
Week 1 (Stages 1-9)
Evenepoel +0
Mas +1’12
Ayuso +2’36

Week 2 (Stages 10-15)
Evenepoel +0
Mas +49
Ayuso +2’13

Week 3 (Stages 16-20*)
Evenepoel +0
Mas +4
Ayuso +19

19 year-old Juan Ayuso decreased his time losses

The above data confirm the general narrative of the race that the eventual winner Remco Evenepoel was the strongest rider from start to finish at this Vuelta and won by opening up a solid lead throughout the first week and extending it slightly through weeks two and three. It also shows us that 19-year-old Juan Ayuso, who eventually finished in 3rd place overall, was able to stave off a late-race collapse despite having no experience racing for three weeks and was actually able to decrease his time losses relative to Evenepoel throughout the course of the race and nearly held even with him over the third week.

Ayuso could stay close to Evenepoel

Course Type Where Time Was Won/Lost:
Uphill Finish:
Mas +0
Evenepoel +11
Ayuso +1’41

Individual Time Trial:
Evenepoel +0
Enric Mas +1’51
Juan Ayuso +2’17

Team Time Trial:
Evenepoel +0
Juan Ayuso +19
Enric Mas +29

Time Bonuses:
Mas +0
Evenepoel +7
Ayuso +19

Evenepoel vs Mas Course Type:
Time Trials (1): 111-seconds Evenepoel
Team Time Trials (1): 29-seconds Evenepoel
Summit Finishes (6): 11-seconds Mas
Time Bonuses (6): 7-seconds Mas

Evenepoel/Mas Time Difference Per Stage Type
Individual Time Trial: 111-seconds per stage (Evenepoel)
Team Time Trial: 29-seconds per stage (Evenepoel)
Summit Finish: 1.8-seconds per stage (Mas)
Time Bonus: 1.2-seconds per stage (Mas)

Overall and stage wins for the young Belgian

However, when we look at the type of courses where Evenepoel won and lost time relative to the other two podium finishers, we see that the narrative of an all-conquering Evenepoel is slightly misleading and that instead, he relied on the time trial kilometers to build his lead and simply limited his losses to Mas in the mountains and time bonus competition.

Rodriguez was also impressive

Remco Evenepoel won this race with his dominant performances in the time trials

  • While Evenepoel had a few memorable climbing performances throughout this race, as the data above definitively tells us, Evenepoel won this Vuelta over the 53 kilometers of time trialing and shows us yet again that time trialing prowess is key to winning a modern grand tour (7 out of the last 10 grand tours have been won primarily in the time trials).
  • This isn’t to say Evenepoel wasn’t fantastic on the climbs, but without the time cushion he built up over the time trials, it would have been far more difficult to match Enric Mas in the mountains over the course of three weeks.
  • His advantage in the TT shouldn’t be seen as a way to couch or downplay his win. In fact, even without his stage 16 crash, this advantage would have allowed him to hold off a surging Primoz Roglič in the third week, and will give him a massive heads up in future grand tour campaigns since it means he will start with an effective lead on his competition.

Was Roglič going to be ‘surging in the third week’?

The repetitive course left little room for creative racing

  • Seven out of the ten stages where the top three GC riders took time on one another were fairly identical, relatively mild stages with a single climb as a summit finish.
  • The repetition of the course is one of the main reasons Evenepoel had so much success taking time against the clock and merely defending on the climbs since it favors a strong time trialist and makes it incredibly difficult to make up for time lost against the clock since there is limited terrain to stir the pot and create all-day all-out chaos-heavy racing like we saw earlier this year on stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia or stage 11 of the Tour de France.

Quick-Step were strong for ‘Classics team’

Quick-Step rode above and beyond what they were capable of on-paper

  • Outside of Evenepoel’s consistency throughout his first full three-week race was his QuickStep team’s ability to hold the line and protect Evenepoel’s leader’s jersey despite being constructed for one-day racing, not the rigors of stage racing. This fact was most clearly displayed by the lack of first-week stage wins for Evenepoel even though he was absolutely flying up on the final climbs.
  • In fact, despite a run of impressive success throughout their 20-year history, this is their first grand tour win, which shows the enormity of what this rag-tag group accomplished.
  • However, as mentioned above, the team was assisted by the course, which meant that even if Evenepoel was isolated at times, the competition struggled to leverage the situation to their advantage. If team boss Patrick Lefevere wants to line up Evenepoel at the Tour de France as a main contender, he will have to open his checkbook and sign more mountain domestiques (more on this below).

A youthful Vuelta

This Vuelta will be remembered for its surge of youth

  • Outside of Evenepoel’s dismantling of his GC contenders on the opening climbs (which were blunted due to the lack of fight for the stage win) and the explosive chaos that was unleashed in the final kilometers of stage 16, the number of memorable individual moments of racing during this Vuelta was almost nil. This means we are far more likely to remember this race due to the youth talent rewriting the rules of what is possible from young and inexperienced riders in grand tours.
  • The 22-year-old Evenepoel became the first rider to win a grand tour during his first complete three-week race since the 1960s, while 19-year-old Juan Ayuso became the first teenager to podium at a grand tour since the 1904 Tour de France. And further down the standings, 22-year-old Thymen Arensman and 21-year-old flashed the potential to become grand tour contenders in their own right.
  • Driving home the point that top-level racing has changed, only a single rider over the age of 30, 35-year-old Rigoberto Urán, finished inside the top 10.

UAE Team Emirates were strong, even without Pogačar

Team UAE leaves the Vuelta with an impressive haul, but they will need a more solid internal order for Juan Ayuso to take the next step

  • The budding superteam will certainly be happy with 3rd and 5th place overall at this race, but while they came together and exhibited decent teamwork at times in the third week (i.e. Almeida pacing on the front of the GC group on the final climb today or Soler dropping back from the break to set pace for Almeida on stage 18), it was hard not to notice that the team’s best riders all appeared to be riding their own races throughout the Vuelta.
  • And with the 19-year-old Ayuso now a rising GC contender, it will be imperative for management to attempt to create some sort of order since the free-jazz approach they exhibited here is fine if you are chasing top five placings but tend to be lethal for teams chasing the overall win.
  • While Almeida presents a great opportunity for the team. At 24-year-old, he has an impressive three top 6 finishes in grand tours but has yet to land on an overall podium and is competing with the two of the best young GC talents (Ayuso and Pogačar) for race leadership.

Ayuso and Pogačar – Two leaders for UAE

Lingering Questions:
Why are young riders dominating?

  • There are many reasons for the recent surge of extremely young riders emerging on the scene ready to dominate the established stars. A few obvious ones are that young riders are no longer spending time in the U23 category as a default path. This ‘skipping of the line’ means that they are training at a much more sophisticated level than they used to, their lifestyles are far more professional, and management has stopped this absurd belief that young riders need to be nursed along or forced to work for older team leaders just because they are younger (the use of power by teams to monitor riders has also likely helped this). For example, a decade ago, Juan Ayuso would be making a few hundred dollars a month racing obscure amateur races on a U23 team instead of riding to third overall at the Vuelta a España while making a salary that allows him to fully focus on training and racing.
  • Also, while it obviously isn’t great to push young athletes to the point that they go over the edge, if we pull back, it does stand to reason that an athlete is able to achieve better athletic feats around their late teens and early 20s than their late 20s and early 30s. And even though it is performed over long distances and many days, road cycling is at its core an explosive sport that rewards the raw short-term power of young riders.

Remco has to believe he is a GT winner now

Remco Evenepoel could become a top Tour de France overall contender, but can he do it at the one-day focused Quick-Step team?

  • The 22-year-old emerged as a bonafide star during a season that saw him prove he could win a grand tour, along with winning a monument at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and taking another impressive victory at the one-day Classica San Sebastián. Also, he stands a very real chance of winning the Road Race World Championships later this month. Even more impressive is that he appeared to improve both physically and tactically over the course of the season.
  • With his unique mix of world-class time trialing and climbing ability, the sky’s the limit and he could join Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar in the top-tier of Tour de France contenders by the time the 2023 Tour begins.
  • However, him competing for the Tour de France title is dependent upon him starting the Tour de France, which is something his team manager Patrick Lefevere has very oddly already confirmed won’t happen in 2023 (despite that any level-headed team would simply repeat the phrase ‘we will build Remco’s 2023 schedule around whatever race he want to do’ after discovering they have such a superstar GC talent in their ranks).
  • Lefevere certainly says a great deal to the press that ends up changing in the future, but being part of QuickStep’s seemingly never-ended dance that oftentimes pits the team’s stars against their boss in the Belgian media is one of the only things that can derail the Remco-train at this point.
  • Grand tour contenders face so many potential pitfalls that stability in their team is of paramount importance. The fact that Lefevere has already begun his mind-games with Evenepoel shows us that alongside the team’s lack of GC-specific domestiques, the young star will have plenty of challenges in 2023 on his quest to become a top grand tour star.

The best of la Vuelta a España 2022

# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

Full Vuelta a España Stage Breakdown List (become a premium member to receive daily stage breakdowns of every major race):

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
Stage 5
Stage 6
Stage 7
Stage 8
Stage 9
Rest Day #1
Stage 10
Stage 11
Stage 12
Stage 13
Stage 14
Stage 15
Rest Day #2
Stage 16
Stage 17
Stage 18
Stage 19
Stage 20
Stage 21

vuelta22 stages map

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