Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) stepped into the WorldTour this season seemingly without missing a beat. The 19-year-old Evenepoel has looked at home with impressive performances in the first half of the season, but the Belgian says that he's still got plenty of work to do as he continues to learn the ropes at the top of the sport.
Though he entered the professional ranks with plenty of hype, Evenepoel would have been forgiven for having a slow start to his pro career given that he missed the under-23 ranks altogether. However, he came out all guns blazing with an impressive third-place finish in the time trial at the Vuelta a San Juan – his first race with Deceuninck-QuickStep – and a ninth place finish overall. It was a big confidence boost, but he is trying to keep his feet on the ground.
"It was a big moment to start out like that in Argentina. Especially in the time trial [third place]," Evenepoel said in an interview on the Hammer Series website. "When I got in the hot seat, I thought to myself: 'Wow, maybe I can win this'. Unfortunately, the wind direction then changed and the late starting riders had a big advantage. I'm still happy for my podium place though. This was the first time that I felt I could really go hard at this level. However, I also know I still have a lot of work to do."
Evenepoel first came to the attention of many when he won the junior road and time trial titles at the European Championships in Brno last July. He then went onto do the double again at the World Championships in Innsbruck, but by then he had already secured a contract with Patrick Lefevere's Deceuninck-QuickStep squad. On the bike, there has obviously been a massive change for the young rider but there has been a big culture shock for him off the bike, too.
"The life of a pro is very different to what I was used to. Last year, I was still in school and busy the whole day. Now, I have so much time on my hands. I wake up, maybe go for a little ride on the bike before breakfast, then I eat something and then I go for another ride," he said.
"In my school days, my day would be over after my afternoon ride but now, I'm back already at 3 or 4 pm and that's it. I have nothing more to do. This is when you have to be smart about recovery and I feel – maybe because I'm still young – that I have some difficulties adjusting to this part of my new life. In the first months of the season, I probably made a few mistakes in this area, not getting enough rest."
For his first year, Evenepoel has been given a reduced calendar so as not to burn him out but there has been plenty of travelling with races in Argentina, the UAE and Turkey already. He says that he's learned that taking his mind off cycling is an important factor.
"Always a have good base at home with my family and keep good friends around me," he said when asked what advice his new teammates had for him. "And also not to stay at home all the time when you're not riding. For example, if you come back from a race and have a few days off the bike, it's important to get out and do something with your friends. Go bowling or something like that. Just to clear your mind and not think about cycling all the time. This is something I need to learn and do more of so I can enjoy life more."
The opening months of Evenepoel's career have given him plenty to smile about, including his performances in San Juan and the UAE. However, an encounter with Tom Dumoulin during one of the stages of the UAE Tour ranks highly in his favourite moments so far.
"[It was] a day with lots of wind and echelons. It was a real war out there and the peloton had split in two. I got caught behind a crash and ended up in the second echelon but I felt the pace wasn't high enough so I attacked and rode across to the first group on my own," explained Evenepoel.
"When I got there, another crash happened and I found myself behind once again. This time with Elia Viviani, who we were going for that day. Tom Dumoulin was also in that group. I started to pull at the front for Viviani and I just went full gas for 10 minutes or so trying and close the gap. Eventually, we made it back and when things calmed down a bit, Dumoulin went to me and said "Wow, you're really amazing. Good job!
"That was really a big moment for me, to have the Giro d'Italia winner and time trial world champion come and tell me that. It was the most beautiful moment of my season so far."
Evenepoel has enjoyed a short break from racing since the Tour de Romandie at the start of May and will return to racing action this weekend with the Hammer Series in Norway.
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