With 40 km to go, Enric Mas (27) tries it for the last time.

He does so by ascending La Morcuera, the penultimate summit of the day: But he stands up, shakes the tree, considers the idea of ​​accelerating and connecting with the group that precedes him, where Alejandro Valverde, his companion in ranks, is driving.

Maybe between the two…

In reality, the movement is lukewarm, shy, and Evenepoel (22) responds to it without hardly ruffling his hair. The Belgian doesn’t bother to get up from the saddle. He doesn’t flinch or look to one side or the other: he doesn’t have any Quick Step dolphins left, but he doesn’t need them either. Evenepoel is satisfied with his talent and his job, also with the cushion that separates him from Mas, a wide margin of 2m07s.

Mas looks back, notices that the Belgian is sharpening his wheel and gives up. This eventful Vuelta (there have been crashes by Roglic, Ayuso, Carlos Rodríguez, even Evenepoel himself) will not be his, but the Belgian’s.

So the Balearic decelerates, returns to the ring and the twenty escapees –ahead they maintain an advantage of more than 1m30s– understand that they can reach the finish line.

Is the ascent to Cotos missing? Well, nothing, go for her.

Among the escapees are three rioters. They are Meintjes, Carapaz and Higuita, and the three move and attack Cotos with margin, and then Carapaz and Higuita release Meintjes and then Carapaz, Olympic champion in Tokyo 2020, pink jersey of the Giro 2019, stage hunter, releases Higuita: Opportunistic and wise, he goes for his third stage and breaks evenepoel, Bennett, Vine and Pedersen, with two each.

Launched Carapaz, willful soul flying in the last five km of false flat towards Navacerrada, the favorites settle for what there is.

But he no longer has resources, Ayuso and Supermán López struggle for third place (Ayuso will keep it, they all arrive together; at 19 years and 359 days, he is the youngest podium finisher in the Vuelta since 1904; the record was Henri Cornet’s, who was four days older) and Evenepoel cries when he reaches the finish line, because his hardships are behind him, and especially the accident in 2020, when his pelvis was broken and he looked like he hadn’t pedaled for half a year.

Today, heading to Madrid, it is his turn to parade in red.

1. Richard Carapaz (Ecu/Ineos) 4h41m34s

2. Thymen Arensman (Hol/DSM) a 8s

3. John Ayuso (UAE) at 13s

4. Jai Hindley (Aus/Bora) mt.

5. Enric Mas (Mov) mt.

5. Remco Evenepoel (Bel/Quick Step)  a 15s

7. Louis Meintjes (RSA/Intermarché) mt.

8. Miguel Ángel López (Col/Ast) mt.

9. Joao Almeida (By/UAE) at 17s

10. Sergio Higuita (Col/Bora) at 32s

12. Alejandro Valverde (Mov) a 1m23s

11. Ben O’Connor (Aus/AG2R) a 1m11s

18. Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos) at 1m23s

1. Remco Evenepoel (Bel/Quick Step) 78h00m12s

2. Enric Mas (Mov) at 2m05s

3. Juan Ayuso (UAE) 5m08s

4. Miguel Ángel López (Col/Ast) at 5m56s

5. Joao Almeida (Por/UAE) at 7m16s

6. Thymen Arensman (Hol/DSM) a 7m56s

7. Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos) at 7m57s

8. Ben O’Connor (Aus/AG2R) a 10m30s

9. Rigoberto Urán (Col/EF) at 11:04

10. Jai Hindley (Aus/Bora) 12m01s

13. Alejandro Valverde (Mov) a 25m39s

14. Richard Carapaz (Ecu/Ineos) a 28m18s