Evenepoel is champion in waiting at Vuelta

·1-min read

Remco Evenepoel has all but clinched his first Grand Tour title after the 22-year-old Belgian star protected his lead in the Vuelta a Espana on the three-week race's penultimate stage.

Well-supported by his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team, Evenepoel had little trouble ensuring that Enric Mas and the Spaniard's Movistar team were never able to challenge the two-minute lead he took into the 20th stage in mountains just north of Madrid, where the race ends on Sunday.

Richard Carapaz won the 181km trek from Moralzarzal to Puerto de Navacerrada on Saturday that included three category-one climbs.

Evenepoel has held the red jersey since taking the lead in the sixth stage.

His most dangerous challenger had been three-time defending champion Primoz Roglic, who was gaining ground until he crashed earlier this week and had to withdraw from the race.

Evenepoel is 2 minutes 5 seconds ahead of Mas, with Spain's Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) third at 5:08 down on the Belgian.

Two Australians now seem certain to finish in the top-10, barring accidents. Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroen) is eighth at 10:30 down, with Giro champion Jai Hindley (BORA-Hansgrohe) 10th at 12:01.

The final stage is a flat 97km ride from Las Rozas to a finish in Spain's capital and custom dictates that no rider challenges the pacesetter.

While the team leaders will use it to enjoy the end of the gruelling event, the sprinters will vie for the stage win.