Deceuninck-QuickStep's Remco Evenepoel has confirmed he will target the maglia rosa at the Giro d'Italia in October, promising to ride an aggressive race as he tests his limits on his Grand Tour debut.
Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Richard Carapaz (Team Ineos) and most recently Marc Soler (Movistar) have confirmed they will also target the rescheduled Giro d'Italia, with Nibali acknowledging that the 20-year-old Evenepoel could be a threat, despite his lack of experience.
Alberto Contador went even further, predicting that Evenepoel is one of the big favourites for the Giro d'Italia and will fight for the maglia rosa all the way to the final time trial in Milan.
Evenepoel was careful not to boast about his chances in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, but made it clear that he is ambitious.
"Overall success… They're big words…" Evenepoel said.
"Because the Olympics aren’t in the calendar, we decided to ride the Giro with the goal of seeing what I can do. If I feel good, I'll try and fight for the maglia rosa. It could be for a few days or until the last day, which would be pretty good. Whatever it turns out to be, we believe it's possible."
Evenepoel is still only 20 but in his 2019 debut season as a professional he won the Baloise Belgium Tour, Clasica San Sebastian, the European time trial title and finished second to Rohan Dennis in the time trial World Championships.
Before the coronavirus pandemic brought the season to a halt in March, he won the Vuelta a San Juan and the Volta ao Algarve, using his time trial ability to gain precious seconds on his rivals and then his climbing ability to defend the race lead.
"It's the right year to ride my first Grand Tour. The Giro d'Italia has been a big goal since the winter. The new calendar made it hard to choose and miss Liège-Bastogne-Liège but the Giro is ideal for my development as a rider. It's the best choice," Evenepoel explained.
"I'm working so that my Grand Tour debut is something special. I've done some tests at home recently and we've seen that my power has increased even more. I'm not working hard yet because the plan is to peak in the right moment and I want to give my all every day at the Giro so I can do as well as possible.
Evenepoel is flattered to hear Contador's praise and suggests the Spaniard is a Grand Tour role model.
"He always won his Grand Tours by going on the attack and trying to pull off something special. I don't like riding defensively or winning by riding defensively, I like to take risks. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win but when you pull it off, it's even more satisfying."
Living and training during the lockdown
Evenepoel was quickly compared to Eddy Merckx when he won the junior time trial and road race titles in 2018. His success in 2019 confirmed his huge potential and heightened the comparisons. However, Evenepoel is wise beyond his years and seems naturally able to live with the pressure and expectations.
His talent and composure seems innate.
"You'd have to ask my parents if I put my arms up in the air as a sign of victory when I was born," he said, seemingly knowing it was true. "I think you can always work to improve but if you don’t win, then it's difficult to keep a winning mentality. You need to work to be successful and need success to drive you. They feed off each other."
Evenepoel spent the COVID-19 lockdown at his parents home in Belgium, knowing the global pandemic will have a long-reaching impact on his career and life.
He was able to train outdoors but also raced some virtual events and set himself a series of personal challenges, including riding the route of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and climbing the Geraardsbergen 50 times.
"I needed some goals," he explained. "When all the races were cancelled, I tried to stay focused and organised my training so that I didn’t lose the emotions of competing in some way."
"Bering able to train outdoors, while other countries were under lockdown was a clear advantage. It'll be easier for us to reach top form. I've already started doing some intense workouts and the signs are good. But I think everyone knows how to train well and look after themselves. We're also two months away from the start of the WorldTour racing, so people have time to catch-up. It's as if we're in November and the season starts at the Tour Down Under in January.
Evenepoel is cautious about a return to normal life due to the impact of COVID-19, at least in the short term.
"I only think we'll really get 100 per cent like before when there's a vaccine," he suggested. "For the next year or so, we'll have to follow precise rules just as we do at the supermarket. A lot of people have died. We need to take all the necessary precautions."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.