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Daniel Ostanek

Remco Evenepoel – 'This was the best way to honour Gino'

Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) pays tribute to Gino Mäder as he crosses the line to win stage 7 of the 2023 Tour de Suisse

Remco Evenepoel paid tribute to Gino Mäder after soloing to the win on stage 7 of the Tour de Suisse, saying his attacking ride to close out a sombre stage was "the best way to honour Gino."

The world champion proved the strongest from an elite group of riders which formed on the day's final climb, shortly after the peloton passed through the marker at which GC times were taken with 25km to go.

Thereafter, riders could choose how they wanted to race the final just a day after Mäder's passing. EF Education-EasyPost, Jumbo-Visma, and Ineos Grenadiers all pushed the pace on the Otteneberg, but it was Evenepoel who made the winning move, going clear shortly after the summit.

The winning ride – Evenepoel's seventh of the season – came after a muted opening 170km of the stage, which saw the peloton ride all together with no attacks before the 25km mark.

"It was clear for all of you as well that the race was kind of neutralised until 25km to go," Evenepoel told CyclingPro after his win. "Then everybody was free to race, and we had the plan for Tim Merlier to get over the climb and try to sprint. But the climb was very hard. Wout and his team went super hard on the climb.

"First, I wanted to help Tim and Bert over the climb, but they quickly screamed at me that I had to go myself, that they saw I was looking very good. I'm not the kind of guy that just quits the race even though the situation is very, very hard for everybody.

"In my opinion, this was the best way to honour Gino."

Evenepoel encountered some resistance in the form of Jayco-AlUla neo-pro Welay Berhe, but the Belgian quickly pushed on alone down the descent. He opened up a gap of 30 seconds and counting on a chase which counted Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), and Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) among its number – even with a near-missed turn at a roundabout on the way down.

Once he hit the short section of flat road to the finish at the bottom of the descent, Evenepoel was free to "let the emotions sink in", he said, adding, "It was just my goal, to win it for Gino."

After a touching tribute in the final metres of the stage, which saw Evenepoel kiss his hands and point to the sky as he ended his ride, attention will now turn to Sunday's closing stage and the final blow in the GC battle with the 25.7km time trial to Abtwil.

Evenepoel lies in fourth overall, 46 seconds down on race leader Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo), 38 down on second-placed Felix Gall (AG2R Citroën), and 28 down on third-placed Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates). The gaps aren't impossibly insurmountable, but it will take some doing for him to stage a last-day turnaround.

"I think it will be very hard to ride him out of the leader's jersey," Evenepoel said of Skjelmose. "He also has a good time trial [he was sixth in the opening time trial – Ed.]. I'll try to ride my maximum and try to go for the stage. We will see what the result will be.

"I'll probably finish on the podium if everything goes well. I don't want to jinx anything; I just want to do a good effort. I think I showed to everybody and to myself that day by day, I've gone better. Hopefully, tomorrow will be my best day of the week, and that I can try to win one more, and then we'll see about the yellow jersey."

Even if he doesn't end up coming from behind to win the 12th stage race of his career, Evenepoel can be pleased with his week's work at his first race back since catching COVID-19 at the Giro d'Italia last month.

"But I think I can be super proud with what I've been showing this week after being sick and after getting some mental kicks in the head after the Giro," he said. "We'll see, and I'll give my maximum. It's a hard TT – a bit of rolling parts, then a steep climb, then a descent, then a finish – it's going to be a small half-hour at full gas."

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