QuickStep-AlphaVinyl boss Patrick Lefevere has said that his rider Remco Evenepoel is "unrecognisable" from how he was a year ago, following the Belgian's dominant win at the recent Tour of Norway.
Evenepoel took three stage victories at the six-day race, eventually taking the overall win by 56 seconds from Alpecin-Fenix climber Jay Vine. He now has eight wins for the season, including Liège-Bastogne-Liège, just one away from the record nine he took during the 2020 campaign that ended with a career-threatening crash at Il Lombardia.
In Norway, his first race back a month on from his Liège triumph, Evenepoel won the uphill finish on the opening stage, did so again by 27 seconds on the stage 3 12km summit finish, and then cemented his dominance with a sprint finish from a small group on the penultimate stage.
Lefevere, writing his weekly Het Nieuwsblad (opens in new tab) column, said that the change in Evenepoel's mentality is "remarkable" compared to his state a season ago.
"The way I see Remco Evenepoel riding in the Tour of Norway now: unrecognisable," Lefevere wrote. "He doesn't look at all like the rider of one year ago. Everyone has been talking about his increased explosiveness – as he showed again in the first stage. But I also think the mental metamorphosis is remarkable.
"Remco rides much more steadily, much more zen. In the final climb to Gaustasoppen on [stage 3], Luke Plapp and Jay Vine were constantly on his wheel, without taking a turn. In the past that would have annoyed Remco and no doubt it still does.
"But I don't see him gesticulating on the bike anymore. He just drives them out of the wheel, the best possible answer. Of course, he sometimes shows that side – remember Brabantse Pijl – but undeniably he has become more mentally stable."
Following his win in Liege, Evenepoel spoke about the mental battle as well as the physical one following his long recovery from that Lombardia crash. In the post-race press conference, he said he felt like "the best Remco" in the mental and physical sense, as well as in his race-craft on the road.
It's something he has continued in Norway, said QuickStep directeur sportif Tom Steels. The Belgian told Het Laatste Nieuws (opens in new tab) that the 22-year-old is calmer and more at ease in the peloton, too.
"This was a mature Remco," Steels said. "He didn't let himself get angry, as sometimes used to happen. He was calm and in control. On the decisive climb, he attacked at the right moment, not too early, not too late.
"He is finding it easier and easier to hold his position. Technically and tactically Remco has made a step forward this season. It's a big difference for him. He is more at ease on the road now."
Power numbers and sprint finish
While Evenpoel's mental strength and ability to stay calm and collected while racing has been a progression, he has also been stronger on the bike, too. On the summit finish at Gaustastoppen, which measured in at 12km and an average nearing 8%, Evenepoel put in a performance which, by the numbers, was among the best of the 2022 season.
There was also his performance on stage 5, where he sprinted to the win from an admittedly small group of five riders. His finishing ability has been one of the few weaknesses to his racing, however, so the result marks another step forward.
"I am quite surprised," Evenepoel said of his sprint to take the stage 5 win. "Because in my first years I knew I would come last in every group sprint. But I train hard on it and look – I will never win a bunch sprint, but the efforts pay off."
Lefevere, meanwhile, said that Evenepoel's climbing numbers may have been the best of the season so far, but noted that recording a high watts per kilogram number is less important than actually beating riders on the road.
"I read everywhere that Remco put down the best climbing performance of the year," Lefevere wrote. "On Thursday he rode for half an hour at 6.5w/kg, which even Tadej Pogačar would not have done this year. Remco himself also speaks of his best values ever.
"For riders, that data is a reference, but they don't get me excited. What value does w/kg have if you don't know the exact weight and don't take race tactics, wind direction, or the day's parcours into account?
"I don't attach much importance to it. To do better than Tadej Pogačar is to beat him in the race. 6.5w/kg doesn't suddenly make Evenepoel a favourite for the Vuelta."
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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, Mark Cavendish, 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.