Remco Evenepoel may have lost out on the stage win at the opening day of the Baloise Belgium Tour, but the Belgian was happy with his performance – and the race leader's jersey – on his return to action following his Giro d'Italia debut.
The Deceuninck-QuickStep leader took second place behind Robbe Ghys (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) in Maarkedal after he had attacked the peloton 28 kilometres out, bridging across to the remains of the day's early breakaway before driving the move to the finish.
Evenepoel had taken Victor Campenaerts along with him before the Qhubeka Assos man dropped from the group with a cramp on the penultimate climb of a tough finishing circuit. Evenepoel, Ghys and third-placed finisher Gianni Marchand (Tartoletto-Isorex) stayed away to the line, with Evenepoel grabbing the overall lead due to time bonuses after leading the move across three 'golden kilometre' sprints.
"I had the feeling that if I could pull through, it would rupture," Evenepoel said of his attack following the stage. "The moment we really drove away was weird because people were watching each other. I realised that at the right moment.
"This is also a circuit where you never have any recuperation. When you can take a breather, it is always a technical passage. You always had to be in a good position, otherwise it became very difficult to move up," Evenepoel continued.
"I had a good time. The weather was good for me as well, so this is a very good start to this race. It's a pity I couldn't take the day's victory, but I'm not the best sprinter. [Deceuninck-QuickStep directeur sportif] Tom Steels told me in my ear that I had to go for my general classification. Tomorrow in the time trial and I want to extend my lead."
Evenepoel leads the race by five seconds ahead of Ghys going into the 11.2-kilometre stage 2 time trial in Knokke-Heist, and a 43-second gap back to 26 riders who finished among the chasing peloton.
He's the favourite to win the five-day race in addition to Thursday's time trial. Speaking after the finish, he expressed surprise that his advantage was already so large.
"Oh, are they that far already? It's like two years ago. I'm going for the day's victory tomorrow, so I want to increase my lead. It can't get any better than this because this was the most dangerous stage.
"I'm very happy, even though I feel that I can still gain a few per cent. It is not quite what it should be, but I am on the right track.
"I felt in Italy that the decline after the first ten days was serious, every day again. I had to accept that and then turned the switch. At home I let it sink in and did some good training. Now we are here, and everything went perfectly today. So, no I didn't want to take revenge or anything – it's about the process. I want to get that top feeling again and it's hard to do."
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