They say not all heroes wear capes, right? Well, when Cyclingnews asked me to come up with my list of heroes, I wanted to make sure that my choices represented a true reflection of my life.
All of the heroes below have had an impact on my upbringing and my story so far, and they've been inspirations in a number of ways. They're not all sporting heroes in the traditional sense but, like I said, not all heroes wear capes, or in this case lycra.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy them.
Mr and Mrs Evenepoel
The first heroes on my list are my parents. My mother is a hairdresser and my father is a plasterer, and they both work full time, but back when I was younger they moved heaven and earth to help me as an athlete.
You're probably aware that when I was younger I played soccer, and after starting at Anderlecht, I moved to a team in the Netherlands called PSV. It meant long drives of around 180km each way, and my parents would have to drive me there and back every day for training. They did that for a number of months, and it was chaos, but they wanted to do everything for me. They would have to be number one on my list.
I was a defensive midfielder, if you must know. I started at Anderlecht at the age of four, and then I went to PSV at 11. Then I came back to Anderlecht when I was 14. My style of play was a bit similar to how I ride a bike – I had a big engine and tried to cover every blade of grass, and even though I didn't have the best technique, I was still good with the ball at my feet. I could shoot, pass and take a decent free kick. I wasn't a guy with all the skills, but my running and energy were top class.
But my parents were the real stars. They basically adapted their lives for me with all the car journeys and meals they would cook for me. Now it's a bit easier for them because I'm getting older and I can take better care of myself.
When I was a kid, I didn't really have posters on my wall of famous cyclists, but Philippe Gilbert was a still a constant presence in my childhood. When I was growing up in Belgium, he was one of biggest names in sport, and when he became road race world champion in 2012, everything just blew up.
I was 12 at the time, and watched the race on TV, and from that moment he was everywhere, and from around that period of time I started to follow his career more and more. I read every article I could about him, all the interviews, all the stories – basically anything I could get my hands on.
Since then I've met him, I've raced with him, and I've got to know him. We've struck up a friendship, and what stands out is the fact that he's not just a champion on the bike but one off it, too.
On the bike, it's his attitude and mentality that stands out. When he starts a race, he starts to win, and he's like that in normal life. He goes for his goals at 100 per cent, and that’s something special.
I’ll never forget the first time I met him, though. It was at a training camp a couple of years ago, back when I was in my second year as a junior. I joined the [QuickStep] team as a stagiaire, and joined Phil at a training camp. When we came face to face, I was so nervous I could barely find the words. I was so quiet and nervous, but he made the situation incredibly easy for me. He was supportive and gave me some advice, and he always seems to have his feet on the ground.
He's left the team now, but we created a number of strong memories together. At the Belgian championships last year, I was on the attack and in the break. It looked like I was in a good position and over the radio he kept saying, 'Keep going, keep going.' Unfortunately, the situation with the other guys in the break wasn't great, and the plans had to change, but what I took from that episode was that if Phil feels that someone else on the team can win, then he will back them 100 per cent. He's a big champion, but an even greater team player.
He's one of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time, and someone that everyone on the planet knows. He's simply a superstar. I've read a book about him, and I remember Beijing when I was eight, and of course London four years later.
When I think about his performances at the Olympics, I remember the feelings that I had watching him on TV, and how I'd think to myself that one day I wanted to be doing something just as special. I watched every final in Beijing and London, and saw him pick up all those gold medals. It was crazy.
What I admired most was his ability to not just get to the top, but also to stay there for such a long time. I'm still not at the top of where I want to be, and I still have a long way to go, but as an example and a role model, Bolt has to be up there.
I've been with the Deceuninck-QuickStep team for over a year now, and what I've learned is that everyone plays their part in the success of a squad. It's not down to just the riders on the start list; there are number of heroes that you don't see who help pull all the strings and make sure that the other bike riders and I can just concentrate on performance.
Honestly, they make a huge difference. It's Patrick [Lefevere], it's the mechanics, the soigneurs and the press officers. In particular, there are two members of the team, Julie and Pauline, who you've probably never heard of, but they play a vital part in the running of the team. You don't see them on the podium when we win, but they're with us in spirit wherever we go. They book every flight, every bit of travel, every hotel and make every reservation. It's a full-time job, 24/7, seven days a week, and it's got to be seamless. They work around the clock to make sure it's all taken care of.
I'll give you an example. Today, I did four hours on the bike, and it was a hard effort. When I came back, I ate well and I rested to make sure that my body could recover, but for the rest of the day I could switch off and relax. The staff in the office, they're focused on their work for hours, and, to be honest, their job is far harder than ours.
The riders no longer with us
This was a difficult one to include, but I wanted to pay my respects to the riders who are no longer with us – the ones who have tragically lost their lives on the roads. Whether they were lost in training or in racing, I just wanted to say that they're not forgotten in the peloton.
We all want to have safer races and to have better conditions when we're training, but there are riders who have had that taken away from them in the cruellest of situations. They've lost their lives in the blink of an eye, and every time you hear or read about a story involving an unsafe incident, you automatically know that the situation could have been avoided.
I want to mention this because there's still work to be done to make races and the roads safer. I know that it's really difficult to ensure that every race is 100 per cent safe, but if we work for it and fight for it, then it has to be possible.
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