Eddy Merckx has suggested that Remco Evenepoel “will have to improve in many areas to win a Grand Tour" after the prodigious young Belgian lost 24 minutes on the stage to Cortina d’Ampezzo and any chance of a good overall performance in the 2021 Giro d’Italia.
Merckx - considered the greatest rider of all time after his dominance in the sixties and seventies, and his son Axel - the manager of the Hagens Berman Axeon team, are sharing their thoughts on Evenepoel and the Giro d’Italia in a daily blog on Nieuwsblad.
Evenepoel was quickly dubbed the next Merckx after he won both the Junior time trial and road race world title in 2018 and went on to take some impressive professional victories until his crash last summer at Il Lombardia. However, a pelvic fracture forced Evenepoel to delay his winter training and return to racing and he only trained for three months and did not race before the starting the Giro d’Italia.
Expectations that Evenepoel could fight for victory at the Giro d’Italia snowballed in the Flemish media before the start of the Corsa Rosa and the young Belgian and his team did little to play down the expectation and fought for every second until a bad day on the dirt roads of Tuscany. He lost more time on Monte Zoncolan and then fell out of the general classification on Monday's stage 16 in the Dolomites.
Merckx has praised Evenepoel in the past but also criticised his love of the spotlight and constant use of social media.
This time he recalled his own debut in the 1967 Giro d’Italia and how he suffered in the final week, to highlight that Evenepoel has work to do if he wants to go on to win Grand Tours in the future.
“I was shocked when I first went to the Giro in 1967. And I had already ridden Paris-Nice and the Midi Libre twice. I faded in the last week of the Giro even though I’d already won at the Blockhaus and in a bunch sprint. So I just want to say: Remco will still have to improve in many areas to win a Grand Tour.''
“I think he underestimated the Giro. There's nothing wrong with that. Now he also knows that, as Patrick Lefevere says: 'there are no miracles.’”
Axel agreed it was to be expected that Evenepoel suffered after so little training and no racing before the Giro.
“What has happened can all be understood according to the laws of cycling,” Axel suggested.
“Whenever Remco raced in recent years, he won. That, and his attitude, meant that he went to the Giro with ambition. If you don't want that overall win, you wouldn’t be sprinting for a few bonus seconds.
“There is nothing wrong with that, and I do believe that Remco achieved the best test results ever just before the Giro. But he hadn't really raced for nine months. And a Grand Tour remains a Grand Tour.”
In hindsight, Axel Merckx believes Evenepoel should have opted for a different comeback race programme that would have still helped him prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.
“I know it sounds easy now but I still support the idea of a gradual build-up. I would have let him ride the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse. But the team has made the decision to let him ride that Giro,” he said.
“You always have to go through the cycling process. That means training, recovery and racing. Development is also about being able to choose a good position in the race. Remco has skipped the younger categories, where you learn the laws of cycling. He has to work on himself now. That is not dishonor and I am sure he will do it well.”
Axel tipped Evenepoel to win the final time trial to Milan on Sunday but Eddy was not so sure due to his accumulated fatigue.
“But he will have to beat Ganna. And it remains to be seen how much he has left, when you consider how hard he raced at the front against Bernal. I just hope that Remco doesn’t break down, the last days are still very tough. Unfortunately this Grand Tour has come a little too early for him.”
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