Evenepoel says 'the best Remco was on the bike today' after Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory
Belgian wins 'dream race' on first attempt to rescue QuickStep's spring Classics campaign
Following his spring Classics-saving victory for QuickStep-AlphaVinyl at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Remco Evenepoel said that he felt it was the first time the best version of himself had been on the bike since his horror crash at Il Lombardia at the end of 2020.
The 22-year-old stormed to victory in Liège, powering away from the peloton on the Côte de La Redoute with 29km left to race and soloing home over the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons as a strong chase group could do nothing behind.
His win is the first of QuickStep-AlphaVinyl's spring Classics season since Fabio Jakobsen's at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in late February, with the major Classics in between seeing the Belgian team hit by illness and bad luck repeatedly.
It struck once more on Sunday, with world champion Julian Alaphilippe put out of the race by a mass crash at 62km to go, but Evenepoel was unmatchable on La Redoute to deliver the big triumph that QuickStep had craved.
"Today I really felt that the best Remco was there sitting on the bike," Evenepoel said in the post-race press conference. "After the crash, I had to be patient to feel the best Remco was coming back.
"I had to work really hard to come back on this level – you can be as talented as you want but you always need the head and the will to keep working and improving every day. After last season after so many ups and downs, it was really tough and hard mentally to always be up there and to motivate myself to go on the bike.
"It's been a really rough period – everybody inside my team and family knew that. There were a lot of moments where I was crying for no reason just because I couldn't find myself anymore in so many ways. But I'm just happy that all the negative points from that went away and turned out into one big positive one with this trophy here next to me.
"[This year] was completely different from last year because then I was always stressed and never sure of myself because I felt that I was not the Remco I wanted to be. This is what I felt the last couple of weeks and months – that I really could feel that the real Remco was coming back and that's why I was really relaxed today all day, never stressed and not panicking in the final when they came closer. I knew that the best Remco was on the bike today."
Evenepoel, who joked that he could've raced the final with his eyes closed, such was his familiarity with the route, had trained on the roads of La Doyenne for years. He called La Redoute, where he put in his stinging attack over the top, one of his favourite climbs in the world, noting that he knew his rivals would be suffering there if he could feel it in his legs.
"I started to feel my legs a bit on La Redoute," he said. "And that's the moment when you know everybody else has been suffering and feels the legs, so maybe that's the situation to try something. If you have a group, you can stop and try to work together but if you're alone you have to go. I was alone and I'm happy I could finish alone.
"It's not a secret we have had a rough spring Classics period," he added, referring to QuickStep's travails. "We're not having a bad season; we just had a bad period in the Classics. If you see the results of the last two weeks, we did top 10 in Roubaix, sixth in Amstel, fourth in Flèche and then first now so we could feel that it was coming but that doesn't mean that we had the best spring Classics period."
'What I showed was actually the real plan'
Evenepoel said that a pep talk from team boss Patrick Lefevere lifted the spirits of the squad and took the pressure off ahead of Liège, which was the last chance to win big during the spring.
"Yesterday in the team meeting Patrick talked to all the guys and said, 'look whatever happens tomorrow we stay calm, it's not the end of the world'," Evenepoel said. "So that really relaxed us and made us a bit easier in the mind to come here and start the race.
"I think what Patrick did with us yesterday was actually a really beautiful gesture towards us, keeping us calm and showing us that he believes in us no matter what happens, that he supports us even if we had a difficult period."
Evenepoel said that Liège-Bastogne-Liège was his "dream race", and one that he had always wanted to win during his career. While the team would've drawn up a plan for both him and co-leader Alaphilippe before the race, Evenepoel said that he always had a plan in mind, one which he executed on La Redoute.
"I'm really happy to win the race like this. It's my dream race, a race I really wanted to win in my life once," he said. "To do it at my first participation it's quite crazy and unreal.
"I'm really proud to finish it off with a plan I actually had from yesterday on so what I showed was actually really the plan – maybe not to go alone from La Redoute immediately but just with a group and then maybe try to finish it off on Roche-aux-Faucons on in the sprint.
"I felt really good all day and the team helped me super good all day, especially the part to Bastogne. It was important to stay out of the wind and out of trouble. Luckily, I could stay out of trouble, some other guys were really unfortunate with quite a nasty crash I heard. I hope everybody's OK. I think it was a perfect day to win like this."
Evenepoel, who now has four wins for the season in addition to his time trial victories at the Volta a Valenciana and Volta ao Algarve, as well as the overall at the latter, said that he had turned into a new type of rider during his recovery from the Lombardia crash back in 2020.
He said that, in addition to the endurance ability that he shows so well during time trials – and in the final 29km at Liège – he also gained explosiveness he didn't have before, which was on show with his race-winning attack.
"We knew since the winter and also the last couple of races that I got a bit more explosive than I was before and also my time trial capacities went up. So, to combine these two is what I showed today with quite a brutal attack and then to keep the high power for a long period," Evenepoel said.
"Of course, it's always a risk to go that hard, that early because it's still 30km to go with a headwind so it's not a fast 30km. But I felt in Basque that I can make an attack which can make a difference in the group and that's what I wanted to try today.
"That's something we really learned about me – after the Lombardia crash I needed a period to recover and get the muscles back that I had before, but I got a new type of muscle which is a bit more explosive than before, but also the endurance capacity didn't go down. Maybe I became a bit of a new type of rider, but now we just need to try to stay on this level."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Prior to joining the team, he had written for most major publications in the cycling world, including CyclingWeekly, Rouleur, and CyclingTips.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France and the spring Classics, and has interviewed many of the sport's biggest stars, including Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Demi Vollering, and Anna van der Breggen.
As well as original reporting, news and feature writing, and production work, Daniel also runs The Leadout newsletter and oversees How to Watch guides throughout the season. His favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Volta a Portugal, and he rides a Colnago C40.