At the airport, heading to Tokyo for the Olympic Games, Remco Evenepoel conceded that his Belgian teammate Wout van Aert may have the edge on him but that he too had got a few per cent better while training at altitude, which means the nation has every reason to pursue a dual leadership strategy in the road race.
The Deceuninck-QuickStep rider, who returned to competition at the Giro d’Italia in May after an eight month injury lay off, is on the five-man Belgian squad for the road race alongside Van Aert, who is currently serving up a powerful performance at the Tour de France. He took fourth place at the first Tour de France time trial, came second to Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) in a bunch sprint on stage 10 and the day after won stage 11, with its double ascent of Mont Ventoux.
“I even think that Wout has an edge, as I saw him driving up the Mont Ventoux. He's perfectly fine,” Evenepoel said in comments reported by Dutch website Wielerflits. “If we go to the finish with a select leading group in the road race and there are still two of us there, I will definitely put on the sprint for Wout.
“But until the foot of that last climb we will each ride our own course. I have also worked hard. Our national coach will have his reasons for betting on two leaders.”
Evenepoel’s return to racing after fracturing his pelvis at Il Lombardi started well with the rider climbing into second position during the first week of the Giro d'Italia, but his fortunes turned after stage 10 and then he abandoned the race after crashing on stage 17.
After a short break he returned, taking a first and second place on the opening stages of the Baloise Belgium Tour before securing the overall win and the he came second in the Belgium National Championships time trial and third in the road race, which was won by Van Aert. Since then Evenepoel hasn’t raced, opting to train at altitude.
“I got a few percent better in Livigno and I feel fresher again,” Evenepoel was reported to have said in Wielerflits and Het Laatste Nieuws. “Now to finish a few good training sessions in Tokyo, then we'll see what it becomes."
Belgium, along with Colombia, France, Italy and Netherlands, have qualified for the maximum five riders at the 234 kilometre men's road race on July 24, which tackles 4,865 metres of vertical ascent on a course including the outer slopes of Mt Fuji.
The team also has two riders in the time trial, with Evenepoel and Van Aert – both of whom have come second in the race against the clock at the World Championships – taking those spots. The powerful young duo will also be joined by Tiesj Benoot, defending Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet and Mauri Vansevenant in the road race.
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