Remco Evenepoel will line up alongside Julian Alaphilippe as their QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team search for one big Classics win at the final showdown of the spring Classics season on Sunday. The pair lead the Belgian squad, which has taken a single Classics win in the past two months – at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
Having been hit by illness and misfortune throughout the spring, the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team, usually a Classics powerhouse, have seen their top-dog status usurped by the likes of Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma, and have failed to even score a podium placing since Fabio Jakobsen's win at Opening Weekend.
"Of course, the team is in a difficult situation because we didn't win any Classic," he said in the team's pre-race press conference on Friday. "But I think in the last weeks we were up there again, coming closer and closer to a victory.
"So, it's not that we are nowhere – we always try our best and we always try to make the race hard as well. It's strange to say that you cannot win everything because for this Classics period we didn't win anything, but there's still more to come."
After focussing on stage racing to start his 2022 campaign, Evenepoel has joined the Classics squad for the hilly races to round out the spring set. He took sixth place at Brabantse Pijl after being cut off by Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) in the sprint for podium places, while he played a support role to Alaphilippe at Wednesday's La Flèche Wallonne.
The pair will be co-leaders this Sunday, though World Champion Alaphilippe has more pedigree than the debutant Belgian having twice finished second at the race before. Evenepoel said winning the race is a career ambition of his but noted that the most important objective this year is that the team wins, whichever rider would take the glory.
"It is an ambition, but I think that, hopefully, my career will still be long, and I can come back every year," Evenepoel said. "So, if I don't win this year, I will not panic, I will not be sad. I think the most important for this team is that we try to make the best result together and here we are really hungry.
"We were hungry in Brabantse Pijl and also in La Flèche Wallonne, so I think we are still really hungry for this last of the spring Classics. We really want to fight and to try to do the best we can this Sunday. The bunch is very strong, but we are strong as well. We won't be there just to fill up the bunch, we will try to win the race, that's for sure."
Evenepoel, who batted away a line of questioning centred around his relationship with Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert - Sunday will be the first time the pair have competed together since last year's Leuven Worlds - said that he and Alaphilippe worked together well at Flèche, adding that their team is full of strong riders who can last late into the race.
"I think we have a lot of guys that can survive until the last climb, but, as we know, in the Ardennes Classics it's quite important to have good positions in the descents and in the climbs," Evenepoel said.
"I think we did a perfect race on that side last Wednesday. I was always around Julian, and he was always around me. We actually moved quite easily through the bunch, so I think that won't be a problem on Sunday.
"I think we have already proven that we understand each other very well, that we know how to anticipate or play the game tactic-wise together. If we feel in the situation that is good for me to go, I will try to take that opportunity, and if we feel that it's better to stick together and go into the last climb and then play the team game, then we will also do it. So, there are so many ways we can ride the race together, which is only an advantage."
After Wednesday's race, Evenepoel admitted that he had suffered with allergies through the afternoon. He explained that they would be under control on Sunday and that his nose was "free again", noting that he'd forgotten to properly medicate at Flèche.
With that problem in hand and a team featuring himself and Alaphilippe as well as climbers Ilan Van Wilder and Mauri Vansevenant, and top domestique Tim Declercq, the remaining variables that can affect the outcome are obvious – other teams and riders, and the weather.
Evenepoel said that he's interested in which way the wind blows in Liège, especially during the final, where he expects a headwind in contrast to earlier cross- and tailwinds.
"I think that this race is quite a bit depending on the wind as well," he said. "If the final is always going to be really fast you can expect some maybe early moves, but if it's headwind, you can kill yourself with the big roads in between the climbs.
"So, everything depends on the wind. How the wind should be on Sunday looks quite interesting. I think the last kilometre towards the finish line will be quite a headwind, but everything before will be like crosswinds and tailwinds, so we'll see."
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