Rui Costa, winning in Lekunberri. Manuel Bruque (EFE)
At the door of the Pamplona hotel where Movistar, Lotto and Soudal sleep on Saturday, Fernando Gaviria, right arm in a sling, broken collarbone two days earlier in the Tour of Britain, stops for a moment to talk to Enric Mas, Oier Lazkano, Imanol Erviti, Jorge Arcas, his Movistar partners, ask them how their Vuelta is going, Mas tells them that like this, that he would like to have better legs, that perhaps his big day will be in Guadarrama, next Saturday arriving in Madrid. The others respond with a summary in a few words: “He leaves so quickly every day that he doesn’t even have time to get together: there are 100 or more of us in the group, the majority of the platoon. “There is no grouping, but the strongest escape, and there are not many.”
The children who swarm around the hotel, Movistar’s second home, only ask for Remco Evenepoel, the brave boy, who leaves early and stops to pick up breakfast in his team’s food truck parked outside the door. The Soudal assistants transport mattresses and suitcases to the truck, and a boy, seeing Remco’s name on a suitcase, offers to carry it himself, what an honor.
A couple of hours later, in the battle of Lizarraga, 20 kilometers of gentle and constant slope of the Urbasa mountain range between Abarzuza, in Tierra Estella, where José Miguel Echávarri dreamed of the Reynolds of Irurtzun and Peluso, Perico, Arroyo and Indurain, and Extarri Aranaz, the platoon is a living flame. Evenepoel lights the fire, the UAE, Soler and Almeida, encourage him, the Jumbo, competition sheepdogs in the meadows of Belagua, what liveliness Vingegaard, calm the flock. They put out the flames. Evenepoel escapes. Fourteen stick to his wheel. Two are able to escape its hypnotic and devastating rhythm, always ahead, never looking back. After Irurtzun, and the Dos Hermanas rocks, Buitrago from Bogotá attacks by ascending. She leaves everyone except two bad clients, the veteran Rui Costa, who sticks to her wheel, gives her conversation, makes her doubt and leads her to discouragement, and to restlessness she leads to the third, the Germanic German Lennard Kämna, so Prussian and strong, who tries to flee on a descent and falls from fear. The three united, one confident, two trembling, reach the final stretch. Costa wins, a Portuguese of wisdom, 36 years old, world champion 10 years ago, three Tours of Switzerland and an assumed role as leader of the second platoon, that of the large organized escapes, for whose rights he always demands respect for the Jumbo, and an activist against the old-age phobia of an increasingly younger platoon. “Veteran people still have a lot to give,” proclaims Costa, already a winner of stages in the Tour, never in the Vuelta until now. “Young people now arrive very quickly, better prepared, and very strong, and many teams did not want to hire me because of my age, thinking that I was already finished.”
In two days in the Pyrenees, north and south, in the mountains that are the mothers of great cycling, the Vuelta has given birth to two stages that will feed memory and imagination for many years. In one, between the Aubisque, Spandelles and the Tourmalet, the Jumbo of all the figures reached the fullness of the best team in the world, the triple triduum, passion and torment, three best of the stage, three best of the general, third great of year in the pocket, Giro, Tour and Vuelta, the first team to achieve it in history. He will do it, if the champion’s pride that encourages the great Vingegaard and Roglic beyond its limits does not lead them to fratricidal folly, through Sepp Kuss and his Dew bracelet that he kisses every morning when leaving, and as he progresses Towards Madrid more butterflies will fly in your stomach every day, in the third of the three big ones that run like Lejarreta ran them.
In the second, on Saturday through the high meadows and beech forests of Hourcère, Larrau and Belagua, having lost the Vuelta the day before, a victim of his stress, wounded by fear, Evenepoel, the conquering youth, pride on wheels, the great class , added more heat to his legend, more layers, shadows and depth to his character, a boxer who gets up from the canvas and accelerates on the bike and hits hard with his fists, electric, than even his victory in the last Vuelta gave him. . He grows and gains in wisdom and only impatience slows him down. Perhaps that is why, to complete himself, he has asked Mikel Landa, master of serenity, to accompany him as much as he can next year. And the man from Alava gladly accepts the role. “It’s not about taking on the world in one bite, and choking,” says Landa. “You have to do it little by little…”
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