There was quite a difference in sentiment among Belgian riders Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel after the World Championships individual time trial for elite men on Sunday. Both Belgian riders cracked the podium but Van Aert was disappointed about ‘the silver medal too much’ while 21 -year-old Evenepoel was content to grab bronze and finish as best of the rest.
Evenepoel wasn’t in contention for the victory as winner Filippo Ganna (Italy) and Van Aert rode in another league on Sunday. He did hold off Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate Kasper Asgreen (Denmark) by a mere two seconds.
“I was in the hot seat for a long time and was comfortable during the first half hour. Then I wasn’t really sure about third place while Wout was in a close battle for victory. That was nerve wracking. I lost a few years there. Those two seconds were just enough,” Evenepoel laughed.
“Wout and I wanted to be on the podium together but not in this order. I can be happy with what I did today. I wanted to ride a perfect time trial. I knew after the first intermediate point that Wout and Filippo were out of reach. I was worried about losing third place but knew that I upped the speed after the first intermediate point. I’ve got nothing to be sad about. I got third so I can be happy with that. It feels like a victory.”
During the post-race press conference on the stage of the concert hall in Bruges, it became obvious that Evenepoel felt he was back to where he was before his knee injury sustained at Il Lombardia in August 2020.
“I think with my performances in the last few weeks I’m really pushing my best values or even better. Today I could really push all the way. If I tried to finish faster, I would’ve blown up. I’m happy with everything I’m doing now. If you’re third behind the two best time trialists, then one has to be happy. It was a completely flat course. I could not have done better on this course,” Evenepoel said.
“We knew it would be very hard to beat Ganna. It’s been a few years now that we’re second or third at the championships. It seems like we’re not allowed to win. Hopefully we’ll find a harder course in the next few years and don’t finish second or third there,” Evenepoel said, who last week finished third at the European Championships in Trento, Italy.
“I’ve learned from the European Championships that pacing is very important. I started way too quickly over there and that cost me the title. We’ve worked out a pacing schedule and I executed it very neatly. On this course this was the best possible result for me,” Evenepoel said.
“There were very long straightforward sections where it’s possible to maintain the same pressure on the pedals. I’ve gradually built up the pace from the first intermediate point, then a notch up towards the second intermediate point and full gas until the finish. I think that should be clear from the split times."
At the first intermediate point, Evenepoel was 11 seconds down on Stefan Küng (Switzerland), recent winner of the European title, and seven seconds down on Asgreen (Denmark). In the second section, the Belgian rider rode 14 seconds faster than Asgreen and 25 seconds faster than Küng and moved into a provisional third place.
In the final section from Damme to Bruges, his Danish rival gained back four seconds on him which was just enough to hold onto third place. Halfway through the time trial, Evenepoel lost his bottle in Dudzele and rode into it, nearly ruining his race. He didn’t know what happened because a few moments later he reached for the bottle and noticed it was gone.
“I felt like I hit a rock and was worried that I would slide away. I knew why it tumbled off because when I placed the bottle back without allowing air to enter,” Evenepoel said. The incident wasn’t crucial in the end.
Later on Sunday, Evenepoel featured in the sports TV show on Sporza. “Finishing second and third instead of first, and third is the only negative point today. We’re professionals and will be able to give this a place. Next Sunday there’s an important appointment coming up. In the road race at the European Championships more was possible for me and that’ll continue to spin through my head in the winter but afterwards I had to switch the button and focus on this race. We’ll do the same again after today.
"Tomorrow there’s a new day and we focus on Sunday. There’s a few training rides left and doing a good recon of the course. Then it’s a matter of coming through Friday and Saturday as fresh as possible because Sunday we’ll be racing for a good seven hours. It’ll be the longest race in my career, if I reach the finish,” Evenepoel smiled nervously when thinking about the upcoming 268 kilometres.
He’ll feature as lieutenant of Wout van Aert between Antwerp and Leuven. “There’s no discussion about the leader in the team.
"If you see in how many situations he can win a race, in a small group or even a big group. It’ll be a matter of delivering him safely in Leuven with a compact group in order to avoid nervous moves. It’ll be our task to counter every move. Hopefully we can deliver him at 200 metres from the finish line,” Evenepoel said.
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