Defending La Vuelta champion Remco Evenepoel was left fuming after a crash seconds after winning stage three left him bleeding, in the latest incident in an already chaotic grand tour race.
Evenepoel delivered a perfectly-timed sprint to take victory in stage three of the Vuelta a Espana on Monday, beating Jonas Vingegaard and Juan Ayuso to the finish line as he also claimed the leader’s red jersey.
The third stage was a 158.5-kilometre ride from Suria to Arinsal which involved flat roads at the start before ending with two category one climbs.
Soudal Quick-Step rider Evenepoel launched his effort some 300 metres from the line, leaving Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) in his wake to claim his first stage win of the 2023 edition.
His celebrations were short-lived however, as he crashed less than 100m after crossing the finish line, leaving him bleeding from a cut on his eyebrow.
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The Belgian rider had sat up in the saddle as he crossed the line with his hands in the air, before beginning to brake but as he rolled at speed towards a barrier at the end of the course, Evenepoel collided with a woman at the edge of the crowd.
His shoulder appeared to hit the woman on the chin, knocking her down — Evenpeoel hit the ground hard and was helped up with blood streaming from his face, although he signalled to officials he was not badly hurt.
The crash is the latest incident in a less-than-smooth start to this year’s Vuelta, the last of this year’s grand tour races in cycling.
The opening sunset team time-trial, which was affected by heavy rain, was criticised by riders with Evenepoel describing the late start time as “ridiculous”, and like driving “at 200kmh on the highway in full darkness without any lights”.
Continuing bad weather forced organisers to neutralise part of stage two, although the safety measures did not go far enough for many.
The Belgian rider’s patience was clearly wearing thin after the latest incident.
“[There were] something of safety [issues], it was only 50 metres after the finish line,” he said in a post-stage interview.
“It’s already the third day in a row, it’s a bit breaking my balls now.”
As far as the race’s position was concerned, however, Evenepoel was much happier.
“I felt super good on the final climb with a long but very strong sprint so I’m super happy with this stage win,” he said.
“I’m going to enjoy the red jersey. It’s a beautiful victory here in Andorra, at high altitude. It shows my preparation was good and that I’m ready for the next three weeks.”
There was a significant shake-up in the overall standings following stage three, with overnight leader Andrea Piccolo (EF Education-EasyPost) relinquishing his advantage after being left behind by the peloton.
Evenepoel, Spaniard Enric Mas and Frenchman Lenny Martinez are now the top three riders in the rankings for the red leader’s jersey, called “La Roja”, with Vingegaard in fourth.
Earlier on Monday, there were several breakaways in the flatter first half of the stage, but the peloton was able to swallow them up on the final climb.
The most notable of the breakaways was an 11-man group led by Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) and Lennard Kaemna (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Kaemna and Caruso put in a valiant effort as they dropped the nine other riders on the first of the two climbs, before themselves being reeled in on the final slope.
Tuesday’s stage four is a hilly 185-km route from Andorra la Vella to Tarragona.