Another young rider steps forward to suggest the next decade might belong to him. It’s been that kind of season. After Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert illuminated the Spring Classics and Egan Bernal won the Tour de France, Remco Evenepoel underscored his potential with a stunning solo victory at Clasica San Sebastian on Saturday at the age of just 19.
This time last year, Evenepoel was in the junior ranks, preparing for the World Championships in Innsbruck, where he would win both the road race and time trial. Twelve months on, he could be in line for selection for Belgium’s elite men’s squad at the Yorkshire Worlds.
Although Evenepoel skipped the under-23 ranks to move immediately to WorldTour level with Deceuninck-QuickStep, he remains eligible to compete in the under-23 Worlds for the next five years. Earlier this summer, however, Evenepoel said that he was reluctant to take the place of a ‘true’ under-23 rider. Following his triumph in a one-day WorldTour race, the youngster has further underlined his credentials for a spot in Rik Verbrugghe’s senior team.
“I am very motivated to be there, both on the road and in the time trial,” Evenepoel told Sporza in San Sebastian. “But for now, my first goal is the European time trial championship [where he will ride in the elite race - ed.] After that, I will do a training camp in Livigno, then I ride the Tour of Germany, perhaps followed by the races in Montreal and Quebec.”
In San Sebastian, Evenepoel lined out as part of a Deceuninck-QuickStep team that included defending champion Julian Alaphilippe and Enric Mas. Already winner of a stage of the Adriatica Ionica Race and a stage and the overall at the Tour of Belgium, Evenepoel has displayed fine form this summer, and he seized the opportunity that presented itself following Alaphilippe’s early abandon.
“I knew that I had come here in a good form, but nobody expected that I could win, not even within the team. But it did happen, so I can only be content," Evenepoel said. "In the first two to three hours I didn't really feel great. But after that, I started to feel better and in the end I apparently still had enough in the tank to get something nice out of it."
Evenepoel tracked Toms Skujins’ attack with 20km to go, and then distanced the Latvian on the final ascent of Murgil Tontorra to solo to victory. Fellow Belgian Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) won the sprint for second place ahead of another neo-professional, the under-23 world champion Marc Hirschi (Sunweb).
“The level was high, with all the riders coming out of the Tour in top form. The course is also very tough, with more than 4,000 metres,” Evenepoel told Sporza. “In terms of the one-day race for climbers, this is the toughest race there is.”
De Vlaeminck and Guimard praise young talent
Evenepoel’s victory generated headlines across Europe and not just in his native Belgium, where, during the week, copious column inches had already been dedicated to his decision to move either to Andorra or Monaco in the coming months. “A Star Is Born,” trumpeted the headline in La Gazzetta dello Sport, while L’Équipe heralded “the emergence of an ace.”
On social media, outgoing French national coach Cyrille Guimard was enthusiastic in describing the qualities of Evenepoel, a rider he first observed at the Trophée Centre Morbihan last year. “He’s not the new Merckx but Merckx plus Hinault with a taste of Bernal and [French footballer Kylian] Mbappé,” Guimard wrote on Twitter. “A pity for those who dream of winning the Tour after 2020 or of winning the Olympics in Tokyo.”
Roger De Vlaeminck has never been shy of casting a critical eye over his successor in Belgian cycling, but he joined the chorus of praise for Evenepoel following his San Sebastian victory. De Vlaeminck himself won a Classic in his first season as a neo-professional – Omloop Het Volk in 1969 – though at the age of 21.
“At the time, we were not allowed to make the switch from junior to professionals. Jempi Monseré and I lost about a year or two, otherwise I might have won at a slightly younger age,” De Vlaeminck told Het Laatste Nieuws.
“Anyway, it was strong what Evenepoel did. At a certain moment he is behind and you think: what is he doing there now? Then, a little later he moves forward. I don't know what it is with that 'little man.' He never really gets tired.
“I said for years that we had two super athletes with Van der Poel and Van Aert. This year it has finally been proven, and a third has now been added with Remco. He and Van Aert are the two future champions we have in Belgium.”