Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) has made quick business of getting his professional cycling career up and running after a stellar performance at the Vuelta a San Juan last week. His third place in the stage 3 time trial and eventual victory in the young rider classification got plenty of attention, particularly in his native Belgium, and though he has brushed it aside, compatriot Tom Boonen believes that the spotlight on Evenepoel is not good for him.
"Remco is a class rider, but all that attention is not healthy,” Boonen said in an interview with the Belgian magazine Humo.
Boonen will know a thing or two about dealing with the pressures of media and fan attention. The now 38-year-old made an impression in his first season as a professional with third at the 2002 Paris-Roubaix, but he says he enjoyed relative anonymity in comparison to Evenepoel, who has skipped the under 23 ranks after taking double gold in the junior road race and time trial at last year’s World Championships in Innsbruck.
With all the attention on Evenepoel, Boonen believes that other riders such as Jasper Philipsen are flying under the radar. Philipsen, 20, won the penultimate stage of the Tour Down Under but has the advantage of not riding for a Belgian team after signing with UAE Team Emirates. Boonen believes Philipsen has potential on the cobbles while Evenepoel will shine in the stage races, but he needs more time to develop.
"Remco is a very different rider than me, a Grand Tour rider. For the Classics, I expect more from Jasper Philipsen. Someone who wins a high-level competition in Australia in his debut year is strong. That is now somewhat lost in the hype around Remco,” said Boonen.
“Do I fear repercussions? I'm sure of it, that guy is 19 years old. If things don’t go as well, that will be hard. I do not doubt his qualities for a second, he is the very best I have ever seen in youth. But give him time. When I made my debut with the pros at the age of nineteen, no rooster crowed at that. Those close to me knew me, but the outside world?”
Having started the season on opposite sides of the world, the two Belgian youngsters, Philipsen and Evenepoel, are due to ride at the Volta ao Algarve later this month.