QuickStep-AlphaVinyl directeur sportif Klaas Lodewyck has suggested that Remco Evenepoel has the same hunger and ‘killer mentality’ as Lance Armstrong, with the young Belgian and new world champion’s drive and ambition matching his physical ability.
In a long feature about Evenepoel in the Dutch magazine Ride published by Wielerflits, Lodewyck acknowledged his comparison may be flawed in some ways but suggested that Evenepoel and Armstrong have the same character.
Like Evenepoel, Armstrong became World Champion at just 22. He went on to win the Tour de France seven times but was then banned for life and lost his Tour victories in 2012 after a USADA investigation exposed his extensive use of doping. The disgraced Texan finally admitted to using banned drugs in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in January 2013.
Evenepoel won the Vuelta a España and the World Championships title in Australia after also taking Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He is often compared to Eddy Merckx but Lodewyck highlights the similarities with Armstrong.
Lodewyck grew up during the Armstrong years and was a professional between 2009 and 2015, mostly with BMC. He rode four Grand Tours and the Classics until a heart problem forced him to retire at 30. He joined QuickStep as a directeur sportif in 2018 and his young age has helped him better understand Evenepoel.
“It may be a wrong comparison, but in terms of character I do see similarities between Remco and Lance,” Lodewyck said in the Ride feature, seen in full by Cyclingnews.
“Aside from everything that went wrong with Armstrong in the past, Lance was also someone who could never win enough. When he (Armstrong) started somewhere, he wanted to be the best. Remco always wants to win too."
"On the last Sunday morning of the Vuelta a España in Madrid, he already started talking to us about the World Championships in Wollongong. It's never enough. That also shows that he is always driven to be the best and to win races.”
Lodewyck suggested that Evenepoel uses external criticism to raise his game. Doubts arose about whether Evenepoel could sustain his meteoric rise in the sport after his 2020 crash at Il Lombardia, in which he suffered a complex hip fracture. He and QuickStep rushed his return to racing but he lacked the form to be competitive at the 2021 Giro d’Italia. He also had a public spat with Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) after the two fell out about leadership of the Belgian World Championship team.
Evenepoel appeared to have learnt from his mistakes and matured significantly during 2022, his win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège silencing his critics and liberating him from any doubts about his ability to return to his true form.
“Lance was a killer. If you kicked his shins, he kicked back ten times harder. Usually he did this on a bicycle and sometimes also verbally. Remco also has that killer mentality,” Lodewyck suggested to Ride.
“He also often answers with performance on the bike. Although he is a lot more diplomatic in his comments.”
"Kick first, then talk."
The Ride feature includes comments from QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team manager Patrick Lefevere and coach Koen Pelgrim as well as Lodewyck.
They all believe that Evenepoel, like many young riders emerging in the peloton, has still to reach his peak due to his age and relative lack of racing experience, but is learning fast and using every difficult moment and every criticism to improve and mature.
“That boy has been subjected to so much. I have the most fun when I can prove people wrong,” Lefevere said.
“In Madrid at the celebration of the Vuelta victory, I was quietly laughing in my gut, as we say in Flanders. People were saying: ‘Look at them all here. Remco can't do it. He can't climb steep climbs. He gets into trouble above 2000 metres. He can’t descend. I've often said it to my riders: Answer with the pedals. Kick first, then talk.”
That is what Evenepoel did at the Vuelta and then he travelled directly to the World Championships. He was third in the time trial and then won the road race title from a breakaway and a 35km solo attack.
“Winning is in their DNA and they already put a lot of pressure on themselves. Remco had already won great races in the past, but there was always someone who felt it necessary to analyse him closely,” Lodewyck suggested.
“Although he was able to handle the criticism well, it becomes a heavy load after a while. I think it was important that he stood out in a big Classic like Liège and took the win in impressive fashion. That was a victory with which he really silenced everyone.”
“He rode impressively in his first year with the pros in 2019 but there were still so many things we could work on and refine. He could improve so much in terms of positioning and explosiveness. He had yet to become a cyclist, also because he had only been on a bicycle for only two years.
“Someone like that can still make enormous progress. That’s why I was always convinced that he was capable of special achievements in the future. I think we have seen [he is] a very complete rider in the last weeks of this season, who has also taken huge steps forward.”
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