Remco Evenepoel has suggested he had the form to become world champion in last Sunday’s road race but never had the chance because he was obliged to follow team orders and chase down attacks as Belgium stuck to the plan of riding for Wout Van Aert.
Evenepoel had fought his way into the Belgian team after a series of victories in the summer and second place in the European Championships road race. Belgian national coach Sven Vanthourenhout selected him but insisted he played a supporting role.
Evenepoel joined an early attack with 180km still to race, followed by a second mid-race attack, and then dragged the decisive selection to the finals laps in Leuven before being distanced.
Julian Alaphilippe attacked with just over a lap to go and won alone, while Van Aert was unable to follow and allowed Jasper Stuyven to play his card, with the Trek-Segafredo rider finishing fourth.
Evenepoel was considered the hero of the day and when asked during the Extra Time Koers chat-show on Thursday evening if he felt he had the legs to become world champion, he said "yes", explaining how and why he didn’t get a chance to ride for himself.
"On Friday evening before the World Championships there was a meeting with everyone. It was very unclear to me what exactly was expected of me. So after sleeping on it, the next day I went to Sven and [Performance coach] Serge [Pauwels] and asked: 'What do you expect from me in concrete terms?'
"I also said straight out that I thought I might be able to win the race in a certain scenario. 'Do I get a chance or not?' I asked. ‘No,’ was the answer. Okay, that was clear.
"The planned tactic was followed: Everything for Wout, with Jasper as a substitute leader. I had to work. My job was not to let dangerous riders get away.
"After that was decided, I flicked the switch and resigned myself to that task. For the record: I would always do that kind of work within our team if asked. If we go with Julian Alaphilippe at Il Lombardia, there’s no problem. But I did say to Sven Vanthourenhout: 'This is a missed opportunity, for several guys'."
Evenepoel will travel to Italy for the final races of his 2021 season, riding the Giro dell’Emilia on Saturday, the Coppa Bernocchi on Monday and then next Saturday’s Il Lombardia.
He crashed out of the Italian Classic last year when Il Lombardia was held in August, fracturing his pelvis after flying over a low bridge into a ravine. He tried to make an early comeback in 2021 but needed further time off and only returned to racing at the Giro d’Italia in May.
The 2021 Il Lombardia does not cover the same route as in 2020 but Evenepoel intends to visit the site of his crash.
"I’m going to go back to the corner, so I can fully put it behind me," Evenepoel told Extra Time Koers.
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