Second-year pro Alvaro Hodeg finishes fifth after chaotic sprint.
Stage 1 of Vuelta San Juan, a 159.1km-long trek to Pocito, where the riders had to cover a 26km-long lap before fighting for victory, marked Remco Evenepoel’s debut with the pros, but also Petr Vakoc’s return after a 16-month break caused by an injury.
Evenepoel, winner of more than 30 races in the junior category in the space of just 18 months, including the National, European and World Championships, is the youngest rider in the World Tour this season, having turned 19 just two days before the start of the Argentinean race, which this year runs its 37th edition.
The promising Belgian spared no effort on a day that saw temperatures push 40 degrees Celsius, taking over the reins in the bunch several times throughout the stage and setting the tempo behind the eight escapees which snapped the elastic immediately after the start. At one point, when several men stretched out the pack and tried to open a gap in the crosswinds, Remco was the first to react, easily shutting down that move and calming things down.
“It was a good stage to make my debut. Not too difficult, with just some rolling sections and only a few technical parts. The plan was to help the team and set the pace in the peloton, and I am happy with how things went. It’s a pity we didn’t won, but we’ll get other chances next week, that I am sure of.”
After skipping the 2018 season due to an injury which required months of rehabilitation, Petr Vakoč took the biggest victory of his life, overcoming these tough moments and making his comeback in the peloton on Sunday afternoon. The 26-year-old, who never stopped believing in himself, impressed with the relentless stints and huge amount of work laid down at the front of the bunch, which helped the field reel in both breakaway groups that tried their chance on stage 1.
“It was nice to be back in the peloton. I felt pretty good, but I must say that when we started racing in the echelons I wasn’t really comfortable with the high speed. I will need some time to get used to it, but I am confident things will get better and better. Afterwards, when everything calmed down, I pulled again for 30-40 kilometers and felt great to be there and help the team”, a happy Petr said.
The bunch sprint in Pocito was a chaotic one, as the teams scrapped to put their leaders into a good position on the long finishing straight, at the end of which Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) emerged victorious. Alvaro Hodeg got in the mix for Deceuninck – Quick-Step and concluded fifth in what was the first of the three opportunities the sprinters should enjoy at the South American race.
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