The 20-year-old Belgian notched up a victory at the Vuelta a San Juan back in January before sealing the top step on the podium at the Volta ao Algarve a month later. Even the COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent postponement of racing couldn’t shift Evenepoel from his stride with the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider winning the Vuelta a Burgos at the end of July.
Now the talented all-rounder leads his team into Pologne, a race that typically follows on the coattails of the Tour de France but this year is being dressed up as a warm-up for the Giro d'Italia – a race Evenepoel will make his Grand Tour debut in later this year.
"I think that Poland is a strange race when it comes to winning the GC,” the young Belgian mused during a long Zoom call with members of the European press a day before the race started.
“The stages are hard but they’re not like proper climbs like in Burgos. It means it’s not to my advantage but it’s also not bad because if you look at the parcours for stages 3 and 4, they’re a bit like the Ardennes. If you want to win the GC then you need to be good on those stages.
"We have a proper plan with the team to try and gain some time on the others. Without a time trial or proper climbs the differences here will be really small, and I think that 20 or 30 guys could win here. If I want to have a chance from the start then the race will need to be hard from the start. It’s a pity for me that there’s no TT.”
Evenepoel's schedule for the remainder of the year points towards his major objectives at the World Championships and the Giro. His TT skills are unquestionable but his Grand Tour pedigree remains an unknown. He has never started a three-week race, let alone finish one, but the way in which he dismantled a world-class field in Burgos provided a stark reminder of both his natural ability and his inhibitions when it comes to stage racing. And while momentum and expectations are mounting as the calendar creeps nervously towards the Giro d’Italia, Evenepoel is taking it all in his stride.
“I don’t think my status for the Giro will change a lot if I keep winning races,” he said.
“Last week was a big test with how I can compare myself to the proper climbers and it was a bigger test to see how I compared with the GC guys in Burgos than the ones here in Poland.
“It’s hard to say,” he replied when asked what a successful Giro would look like.
“First I have some goals now and I’m focusing on Lombardia and we still have the Worlds before. You’ve got to take it race by race and then prepare as best as possible. My advantage is the TT and there’s almost 70km of time trials in the race. That’s a good point for me but we’ll have to see because on the climbs you can lose it the entire Giro in one day, as we saw with one of the Yates [ed. Simon] brothers a few years ago.”
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