Remco Evenepoel has responded to criticism from Eddy Merckx and confirmed he will target the overall classification at the Giro d'Italia rather than ride Liège-Bastogne-Liège and other Classics in the new August to November race calendar.
Evenepoel had secured leadership status at Deceuninck-QuickStep for 2020, his huge potential, friendly personality and breakthrough results as a neo-pro in 2019 capturing the hearts of the Belgian cycling fans and near constant attention of the Flemish media. However, Evenepoel has yet to attain the status of Eddy Merckx, cycling's undisputed greatest of all time, who recently suggested the 20-year-old thinks he has already made it as a successful rider.
Evenepoel won both the time trial and road race junior world title in 2018 and then won the Clasica San Sebastian in his debut season. He won both the Vuelta a San Juan and the Volta ao Algarve this season but his results pale in comparison to Eddy Merckx's legendary palmares.
"Of course he's talented but the road is still long. Sometimes he seems to think he's already made it. I hope for him he will live up to all the expectation but he'll have to eat a lot of sandwiches first," Merckx said.
"Still has to eat a lot of sandwiches" is a Flemish saying to explain that someone still has a lot of work to do.
Wisely, Evenepoel knew he could not hit back at Merckx but again showed his pride.
"Eddy Merckx has the right to put someone in their place. Look at his career, there is nothing to add," Evenepoel admitted to Het Nieuwsblad. "But I'm not going to worry about it, I know that I'm doing well. The team is satisfied with what I have done so far. That is the most important."
Focusing on the Giro d'Italia and the World Championships
Evenepoel has been able to continue training outdoors in Belgium during the COVID1-9 pandemic, completing a series of personal challenges as well as some solid training.
However, his four major goals have been reduced to two due to the suspension of racing and the new race calendar squeezed between August 1 and November 8.
He will have to wait until 2021 to target the time trial at the Tokyo Olympic Games and a packed race calendar has resulted in Liège-Bastogne-Liège being held during the opening weekend of the Giro d'Italia.
Julian Alaphilippe and sprinter Sam Bennett will lead Deceuninck-QuickStep at the Tour de France, while Evenepoel will ride the Giro d'Italia, as was originally planned during the winter.
"A Grand Tour is important for my development," Evenepoel told Het Nieuwsblad.
"I'll miss Liège with a heavy heart but everyone in the team quickly agreed that the Giro was the best choice for me. I want to know what it feels like to race for the overall classification for three weeks, that is important for the years to come."
The Road World Championships are due to be held near the UCI headquarters in Aigle-Martigny between September 20-27 but with public events in doubt in Switzerland, there have been reports they will be moved to Qatar at the very of the season, with the Belgian national championships also moved from August 22-23 to September 22 for similar reasons.
Evenepoel makes it clear he is not impressed with the date squeeze and a possible flat World Championships in the Qatar desert that would suit the Classics riders and sprinters. It would mean far more competition for a leadership role in the Belgian team, and he was eyeing both the time trial and road race world titles.
"Although I also understand that there's a ban on mass events in Belgium until 1 September, to be honest, I think it's quite ridiculous," he said of the Belgian championships possibly being held during the World Championships week.
"I am committed to it because the circuit in Anzegem is quite tough and suits me. But to put it on a Tuesday during the World Championships… Perhaps we don't all the details yet and the World Championships will also get a new date."
“I'd be sorry if it is moved Qatar. The route in Switzerland is beautiful, a rare opportunity for climbers or Grand Tour riders, for me it was always one of my big goals. In Qatar, it'd be a billiard surface-like course and that would mean me focusing on the time trial."