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Remco Evenepoel: First of all, I want a normal year

CALPE SPAIN JANUARY 10 Remco Evenepoel of Belgium speaks to the media press during the QuickStep Alpha Vinyl Team 2022 Media Day on January 10 2022 in Calpe Spain Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Remco Evenepoel at QuickStep-AlphaVinyl's media day in Calpe (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

After his rollercoaster season in 2021, it's not surprising that Remco Evenepoel is asking for little more than an uneventful 2022 with QuickStep-AlphaVinyl.

Recapping the last 12 months of Evenepoel's career in a few lines would be well nigh impossible. His comeback from major injuries sustained in a bad crash at Il Lombardia to start the Giro d'Italia as his first race back was only one, albeit a significant, part of the tale.

After a solid first ten days in the Giro where he looked, at times, like Egan Bernal's biggest challenger, his race ended early and in dramatic style after a series of setbacks, crashes and off-days. 

There were also summer comeback wins in Belgium, Italy and Denmark, not to mention a World Championship bronze in the elite men's time trial along with a brace of medals in the European Championships later in the year.

His entanglement in an interminable media post-mortem about the fraught internal politics of the Belgian team's performance in the road race at the Worlds also formed an indelible part of his season.

Normalcy is Evenepoel's key wish for 2022, however, the 21-year-old also revealed an unquenched level of personal ambition for the months to come.

"First of all, I hope for a normal season, not like last year with my very late start," Evenepoel told reporters during the team's media day in Spain. "Then the biggest goals will be working towards the Ardennes Classics and the Vuelta a España."

Evenepoel said he hoped to gain stage racing experience in his sole Grand Tour outing of 2022. He has a strong track record in Spain, with a victory in the Clásica San Sebastián in 2019 and another in the Vuelta a Burgos 2020 as two of his career highlights to date.

The Belgian is eyeing the Vuelta a España's long mid-race time trial in Alicante, which takes place just a stone's throw away from where QuickStep-AlphaVinyl are holding their ten-day training camp. Evenepoel's track record in time trials across the board has shown, even at 21, racing against the clock holds few secrets for him.

"I'm really excited to race the Vuelta because, to be honest, it's my favourite race of the season. Normally the weather is good, the route is always special with surprising stages.

"Plus," he added, referring to the three-day opening leg in Holland, "it starts close to my home."

As for how he saw his year playing out, it was notable that Evenepoel quickly reverted to his mantra of "first of all, a normal season."

"It's about just trying to perform in the races at a higher level. I'd like to take a step towards the real GC riders and try to compete with them for victories," he said when pressed to provide his specific goals. "And then, yeah, to win some time trials as well again. If I can go out of the season with some good wins and a nice Vuelta, then I'll be happy."

There should be no regrets for how he raced in 2021, Evenepoel said, with the Giro far from being a negative experience despite his untimely early exit.

"The only really bad period I had was the week of the Olympics where I didn't perform at my level," Evenepoel, ninth in the Olympic TT and 49th in the road race, argued. "It was actually a surprise because we had done some good training. But maybe we should have done it later for me to be in good shape at the Olympics, that was maybe the only big mistake we made.

"I know the second week of the Giro wasn't my best week, but we only left it with good thoughts and good feelings because I was fighting for the pink jersey. Maybe that's the only sad thing because I didn't take it for one day. That would have been a dream."

However, he concluded, his eight wins in a single year, even if none of them were at WorldTour level, were hardly a series of results to be sneezed at, particular as they come along with five podium finishes in six different championships.

"I'd change them [the podium finishes] all though," he added, "for just one [Giro leader's] jersey. But that's life, when you come close, you wish you'd gone one step higher and could get that step on the podium."

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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.