Evenepoel daring to dream ahead of World Championships
'My goal is to be on the podium in the time trial'
A career in fast forward continues apace. Twelve months ago, Remco Evenepoel was putting the finishing touches to his preparations for the junior World Championships. Now, the 19-year-old finds himself among the first quintet of riders selected for Belgium's elite men's team for the 2019 Worlds, and among the favourites for the time trial rainbow jersey.
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Evenepoel has been a professional rider for just nine months, and has been a competitive cyclist for scarcely two years, but, in that time, his routine has been composed almost exclusively of the extraordinary. His Bunyanesque feats as a junior – he won the 2018 European Championships road race by almost 10 minutes – have been followed by similarly outsized displays on unrestricted gears since joining Deceuninck-QuickStep.
Despite powering to victory in the elite time trial at the 2019 European Championships in Alkmaar last month, Evenepoel is still eligible to compete in the under-23 event at the Yorkshire World Championships. His ambition, however, has long since outstripped his age grade. When Evenepoel spoke this week ahead of the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec in Canada, he saw little point in downplaying his aspirations for the elite time trial at the Yorkshire Worlds, despite likely competition from men like Slovenia's Primoz Roglic and Great Britain's Geraint Thomas.
"Yes, I'm the European champion, so you have to dream, I think," Evenepoel said. "My goal is to be on the podium. If I'm not on the podium, then so be it; I think my season has already been perfect. Anything more that comes would be great, but I'll ride without pressure. Let's just say that top five would be good, top three would be top, and winning would be magnificent."
Evenepoel will also line out in the elite men's road race four days later, and it is a measure of his status that his place in the eight-man line-up has been confirmed by national coach Rik Verbrugghe, while riders like Sep Vanmarcke, Tim Wellens and Yves Lampaert are still vying for their tickets to Yorkshire – although Lampaert is already confirmed for the time trial.
When Verbrugghe announced his pre-selection earlier this week, he spoke of a desire to give Evenepoel "a taste of what the Worlds are like", although winning the Clasica San Sebastian last month has already whetted the youngster's appetite for ever-more substantial fare.
"It will the longest race I've ever done, but then we said that before San Sebastian, too, and I won. But it will be seven hours of riding, and that's very long. We'll see," Evenepoel said. "You never know – the World Championships is always a special day. It's not always logical. Let's just hope that this year we can do something special. The most important thing is to bring the rainbow jersey home. There's a big chance that the jersey will come to Belgium this year."
Evenepoel made light of how his aggressive style is borne partly from a relative lack of finishing speed, although it might tally well with the Belgian strategy, which is likely to be a reworking of the Deceuninck-QuickStep approach of trying to prise the race open rather than looking to shut it down.
"I don't think I can wait for the sprint, so, if I do something, it has to be by attacking. But then I've read already that [the Netherlands'] Mathieu van der Poel isn't going to wait, either, so I know who to follow," Evenepoel joked.
"We can't control the race because we don't have a sole leader like the Netherlands, who have Van der Poel. It's the same for France, with [Julian] Alaphilippe, so it's up to them to control the race, or maybe Spain and Slovakia," he continued, with Spain backing defending champion Alejandro Valverde and Slovakia all in for three-time champion Peter Sagan.
"It's not up to us to control the race; it's up to us to put the other teams in difficulty. I think that's our strength for this year: we can put teams in difficulty and, in the end, we can do something special."
Evenepoel's final competitive outings before the Worlds come this weekend in Canada, where he rides alongside Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate Alaphilippe at the GP de Québec on Friday and the GP de Montréal on Sunday.
"I'm a bit tired because I did some big training rides after the Deutschland Tour, but I hope on Friday and Sunday I'll be a bit fresher," Evenepoel said. "I think the form and the legs are there."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.