The 21-year-old prodigy has already openly indicated he is willing to sacrifice any chance of personal glory to help Wout van Aert win the world title, and Vanthourenhout believes that will win him the hearts of home fans on home soil.
Evenepoel is a great hope for Belgium but with that comes great expectation.
In the aftermath of the Olympics, where he placed 49th in the road race and ninth in the time trial, he faced so much criticism for not respecting team tactics that his father spoke out to say: “Know that this hurts and that this is not good for the mental well-being of the athlete.”
Evenepoel, who in Tokyo was still on his way back from the career-threatening pelvis fracture he suffered at last summer’s Il Lombardia, has since picked up form and is set to play a big role in Sunday’s road race.
Even so, he hasn't completely escaped scrutiny and criticism, with Eddy Merckx commenting that he "mainly rides for himself" in one recent Belgian newspaper interview.
“It’s not a main goal to win fans back but I think it’s good for him at his age, with a World Championships in Belgium, with everyone together,” Vanthourenhout told Cyclingnews.
“It’s very important to have the same vision, everyone on the same line - also Remco. There are no opportunities to take a side way. So let’s see, he can be a hero on Sunday.”
Vanthourenhout remained guarded about the aftermath of Tokyo, but indicated that lessons were learned. In the road race, Evenepoel attacked earlier than planned but was soon dropped when the favourites started to move, meaning Van Aert found himself alone and a marked man in the final. He had to settle for silver behind solo winner Richard Carapaz.
“Remco was not in the best shape there, and when you don’t have good legs then maybe you don’t make the best choices,” Vanthourenhout suggested.
“We learned a lot from the Olympics. Remco learned a lot, the team also. I had good conversations with him and with [Deceuninck-QuickStep boss] Patrick Lefevere. We did a good evaluation, everyone was clear after. For us, since Tokyo, everything is closed. Now we are on one line.
“Remco is still young. He’s a very talented rider. The last year was not so good for him. There’s a lot of pressure on his shoulders especially here in Belgium, but I have a feeling everything's going in a good direction now. With his shape at the moment he’s a big key in our team.”
Despite Evenepoel’s return to form, Vanthourenhout confirmed that the home nation are fully backing Van Aert. There was a suggestion of back-up plans, but not of shared leadership.
“We have a good strong team with one goal, so everyone knows what to do,” he said.
“We stay focused and we stay with our first mindset, and that’s try to win the race with Wout.
“Of course, we have to see what the race situation is. Sometimes it’s different and you don’t have it like you want. We’re going to have to have a plan-B and C but the mindset from everyone is in the same direction and that’s to try to win the race with Wout.”
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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