Remco Evenepoel on stage 11 of the Giro d'Italia.

Remco Evenepoel struggles on the gravel roads of Giro stage 11

Remco Evenepoel finishes more than two minutes behind Egan Bernal on stage 11 of the Giro d'Italia.

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After a solid start to his debut Giro d’Italia, Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) found himself struggling for the first time so far in the Italian Grand Tour on Wednesday’s long-awaited stage 11. With its 35 km of gravel roads, the 162 km stage from Perugia to Montalcino was always going to be a tough one, and it indeed proved too tough for Evenepoel to stick with a dwindling GC group late in the afternoon.

When all was said and done, Evenepoel had lost 2:08 to race leader Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers). What’s more, Evenepoel’s rough day on the gravel raised questions about what had happened within his team as well.

“It wasn’t the best day for me,” Evenepoel said after the stage. “I was suffering a lot on the second sector, then on the third one, when they started sprinting, I felt the legs were pretty empty, that’s why I was in the last position and couldn’t follow. It’s the way my body reacted after eleven days of racing that came after so much time with no racing.”

After initially losing touch in an earlier gravel stretch and then rejoining the pack, Evenepoel dropped off the back of the reduced peloton again with around 20 km to go in the stage, looking uncomfortable on the penultimate gravel section of the race and allowing a gap to form to the other GC riders. From there, he was unable to close down that gap.

While Evenepoel initially kept the group in sight, Bernal himself then started applying pressure at the front of the GC group, and before long, the gap quickly began to grow. Surprisingly, Evenepoel had a teammate up in the GC group in João Almeida, but Almeida did not immediately drop back to help his teammate.

Around the time that Almeida finally did start to drift back, Evenepoel could be seen on the race broadcast ripping his earpiece out. Sport director Klaas Lodewyck later told Het Nieuwsblad that Evenepoel had “had enough” of the encouragement he was getting over the radio while he was on the limit.

The gap to the Bernal group had grown to around a minute by the time Evenepoel linked up with Almeida. Together, the duo temporarily kept the gap from getting much wider for a time, until the riders hit the day’s final climb, where Bernal and Co. started to put more time into Evenepoel again.

By this point, Almeida was fully committed in his efforts to assist Evenepoel, but the pair arrived more than two minutes down on Bernal nonetheless.

Evenepoel had started the day just 14 seconds down on the former Tour de France winner in the overall standings, but he is now 2:22 back. If Evenepoel can bounce back quickly, the time lost on Wednesday shouldn’t sink his GC hopes entirely, particularly with the long, flat time trial looming on the final stage that should give him hope of recovering plenty of time. Nonetheless, his pink jersey aspirations were undoubtedly dealt a major blow on the gravel roads outside of Montalcino.

“I’m thankful to the team and João for the job they did for me today, from the start until the finish,” Evenepoel said. “It’s not a good result for me, but I’m still seventh in my first Grand Tour and remain confident, as there’s still a long way to go until Milano.”

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