Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel overcame a mid-race crash, a slow wheel change, a long chase and even racing with number 13 on his backto win the junior men’s road race world title at the UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck.
No one has ever won both the junior men’s time trial world title and then a few days later the junior road race world title. No one has certainly ever done it in such spectacular fashion after losing more than two minutes in a crash. And no one, not even a young Eddy Merckx, showed the same talents and such apparent maturity at just 18 years of age.
Evenepoel is naturally confident, yet he was also keen to celebrate his world title with his Belgian teammates at McDonalds on Sunday night. He cheekily rubbed his chin as a symbol of a goat’s beard before reaching the finish of the race and holding up his bike at the finish line. He was imitating soccer stars Lionel Messi and Christian Ronaldo who have teased each other about being the G.O.A.T. - the Greatest of all time).
He seemed full of bravado but was more modest post-race and revealed that was simply a gesture to a friend watching on television.
“I’m not a champion, I’m still a junior. Real champions are the best amongst the pros. I’ve still got a long way to go,” Evenepoel said as he reflected on what he had achieved and how his life will change as a Belgian double world champion.
“The real legends are guys like Eddy Merckx and Alberto Contador. I prepared for this as professionally as possible, but it was far from perfect. I’m a world champion now, but I’m not a champion for life. I’m not the new Merckx. I’m haven't won a world title as a professional rider and I haven't won the Tour de France. I’m far from being the new Merckx, I’m only the new Remco Evenepoel.”
Evenepoel seems able to naturally deal with the expectations on his young shoulders. He shrugs them off like he drops his rivals on the climb. He is focused on achieving what he really wants to achieve.
“I have my own expectations, and if I achieve my expectations that’ll be good enough for me,” he said simply.
“I don’t think or care what people expect or want me to achieve. I have to focus on own path. What Quick-Step Floors want me to achieve is the most important thing. They will have goals and I have goals; if we can achieve them together, it’ll be great.”
Learning from the 'big boys' at Quick-Step Floors
Evenepoel will skip the under-23 ranks next year and ride for Quick-Step Floors at WorldTour level. He will follow a modest race programme in 2019 and focus on training, development and learning the tricks of the professional trade from his older and wiser teammates. He is already being coached by the Quick-Step Floors staff, who helped him find a new peak of form for this week in Innsbruck.
“I’ve only been racing a year and a half, I still have to learn a lot. We’ll see what the future gives. Quick-Step Floors will be a good first step for me. I hope I can grow in silence with the team. I have confidence in them, and they in me, so it will be a nice future I guess.”
Evenepoel is not afraid of flying too close to the sun and burning out in his early years as other prodigious talents have done before him.
“I think I proved how strong I am mentally after the crash,” he pointed out, referring to his chase and then attack with Marius Mayrhofer of Germany, as well as his final solo attack and solo ride to the finish in Innsbruck.
“A lot of riders would have said their race was over, but I’m not like that. I always want to do as well as possible. I’m mentally strong because I’ve worked hard. It’ll be the same in the future. I’m looking forward to a break during the winter, but then I’m ready for some hard work with the big guys.”