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Evenepoel tames tough final climb, increases Vuelta lead

Another day in the mountains for Stage 9 of the Vuelta a España and Louis Meintjes takes home his first stage victory after a steep final climb of Les Praeres.

NAVA, Spain - Remco Evenepoel dropped his main challengers on the grueling final ascent in Les Praeres to increase his overall lead in the Spanish Vuelta.

South African Louis Meintjes won Stage 9, crossing the line more than a minute ahead of Samuele Battistella, Edoardo Zambanini and Evenepoel.

Evenepoel launched his attack about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the summit to overpower his rivals and extend his lead ahead of Monday’s rest day and Tuesday’s time trial in Alicante.

The Belgian rider from team Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl increased the gap to Enric Mas from 28 seconds to 72 seconds overall. His advantage over defending champion Primoz Roglic went up by more than 50 seconds and was at nearly two minutes.

Roglic, seeking an unprecedented fourth straight Vuelta title, was only 10th in Sunday’s stage, crossing the line 2:26 behind Meintjes.

Evenepoel got the help he needed from his team despite the surprise absence of Pieter Serry, who had to withdraw before the stage after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“I’m really impressed by my team,” Evenepoel said. “I’m so happy with the guys, it actually makes me a bit emotional seeing these guys working their hearts out for me. In a climb like this, it’s all about the power, there’s no drafting or anything because it’s too steep.”

Meintjes became the second South African stage winner in the Vuelta since Robbie Hunter in 1999 and 2001.

“It’s something special,” the 30-year-old Meintjes said. “I’ve never been on the podium of a World Tour race except for a team classification so that was one of my main goals before stopping my career. The last few days, I was just not quite fast enough in the mountain finishes. If I can’t (get) a result that way, the best was to go in the breakaway and it worked out perfectly.”

Meintjes moved to 16th in the general classification, nearly seven minutes off the lead.