Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere has suggested that Remco Evenepoel's ego has been 'dented' after his Giro d'Italia hopes evaporated on stage 16, but he insists it was the right call to send his young star to the race.
Evenepoel is not just making his Grand Tour debut at the age of 21, but is also doing so on the back of an eight-month injury lay-off after his pelvis fracture last August during a crash at Il Lombarida.
Given his meteoric rise in his short time in the sport, Evenepoel was even considered a contender for overall victory, and those expectations grew when he reached the first rest day second overall. However, after falling to seventh during a tough day on the gravel on stage 11, and losing more ground on Monte Zoncolan on stage 14, Evenepoel fell entirely out of the general classification picture when he lost 24 minutes on Monday's stage 16 in the Dolomites.
"His ego has been dented," Lefevere said on Tuesday's second rest day, according to Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws.
"That boy had never lost. He won everything in the juniors, his first two years with the pros were also a great success. This is the first time that he has lost in sport."
Lefevere did, however, explain that Evenepoel did not seem overly regretful, adding that his disappointment seemed greater following his first setback on stage 11.
Nor is Lefevere himself overly disappointed.
"Of course we had hoped for more - we are not going to deny that - but you can read and listen to all the articles and interviews with me again; I did not go along with the hype," said the Belgian team boss.
"I wasn't that crazy. I have never forgotten that Remco could not start the Giro in normal circumstances. In January he was still only swimming due to his problems, he only trained fully for three months. Every year, at the start of the season, I give the same speech to the riders: 'I have already gone to Lourdes three times, but I have never seen a miracle'. The expectations were not realistic."
Despite making that case, Lefevere still feels it was the right call to have Evenepoel make his season debut and Grand Tour debut at the Giro, instead of working his way back via shorter and less high-profile races.
The decision to give him the lead 91 dossard over co-leader Joao Almeida, he added, was made by the race organisers, and not the team.
"We made that choice and I remain committed to it. It would be silly to retract my tail now," Lefevere said.
"The only thing we could not control was the euphoria that arose in Flanders in the run-up to the Giro. But that is precisely why we, and certainly the press, do not have the right to judge Evenepoel on what happens this week. The people I talk to about racing, and who know a bit about it, all say that this is normal. What we now see is not the correct image: this is not the real Evenepoel."
Evenepoel appears determined to see this Giro through to its conclusion in Milan on Sunday, although Lefevere said a possible withdrawal would be discussed on Tuesday's rest day. The final-day time trial could be a target but if a rest day ride reveals significant fatigue then he
As for whether Evenepoel's longer-term Grand Tour prospects had been similarly dented, Lefevere responded: "I hope not, because otherwise I would have done a stupid thing by giving him a five-year contract.
"I am confident. Remco's numbers are special. Only at the moment, he has hit his limits in these circumstances."
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