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Evenepoel's dream of Giro d'Italia pink is nothing but likely

In-depth
13 Jan 2020
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Words: Joe Robinson

Remco Evenepoel has a secret to share: ‘The other week, I tried on a pink jersey’. The decision had only just been made by the higher-ups at Deceuninck-QuickStep for the 19-year-old to make his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d’Italia and he was already measuring himself up for the Maglia Rosa.

You wouldn’t be mistaken for seeing this cock-sure attitude as being a sign of his adolescence, but if any rider has earned the right to broadcast his grand dreams so candidly, it’s Evenepoel.

After all, he spent the first year as a WorldTour professional justifying the unignorable hype that has latched itself onto his life since he wowed the world as a junior just 24 months ago. Plenty thought that Evenepoel would be treading water in his first year as a pro, that he was going to meet his match and be given a reality check – yet it was anything but.

If anything he just continued where he left off as a junior, simply riding at a level above anyone around him. A two-month spell saw Evenepoel win three extremely polarising bike races in the Classics-esque Tour of Belgium, pan-flat time trial at the European Championships and the hilly Classica San Sebastian, all with a startling amount of ease.

Take his win at San Sebastian in which he was ‘dropped’ from the main group, fought back to deliver bottles to his teammates, launched an attack on a steep slope 20km from the finish and then soloed to a 38-second win.

In turns out he was never dropped because of his legs, rather because of a mechanical seeing his chain jump while cruising along at 60kmh, making the nature in which he won even more mind-boggling.

‘I was never dropped, I had a mechanical,' Evenepoel told Cyclist. 'I had to get back in the group on a small road. I waited until the hills to move up and I actually did five attacks to get back to the main group so I knew I was on a good day.

‘Then when I got off the front and got 48 seconds I knew they couldn’t catch me. I was pushing over 450w, which is a lot for my weight. When I was riding into the finish I started crying because I knew I’d made it. Moments like that are why I ride my bike.

‘It felt like I was in the Juniors because I knew they couldn’t catch me.’

These performances have got people excited, not least the Belgian public who have afforded him the obligatory comparison to Merckx, and that's before his 20th birthday.

The best way to contextualise the furore around Remco back in Belgium is to liken it to how a young David Beckham was treated here in the UK (or just England).

Beckham was more than a footballer. He featured heavily in the glossy gossip magazines, your Heats and Hellos, with stories that had nothing to do with his footballing career. People wanted to know when he had his haircut, where he and Victoria had gone on holiday and where he was buying his clothes. He captured the imagination and was arguably one of the first footballers to truly move beyond in the world of fame.

Evenepoel’s now living that life. The daily newspapers doorstop his girlfriend as she leaves sixth-form college, the glossy mags speculating about their relationship on its covers. The question of what Remco’s listening to can be almost as important as what races he is targetting. It's part of the reason he has moved to Italy.

At the team’s recent media day in Calpe, Evenepoel was a man in demand. At first, he was pulled from pillar to post for television interviews with Belgian, French, Spanish, Italian and English-language broadcasters.

Afterwards, he was thrust in front of 20 Belgian written journalists for questions in Dutch. Then came 20 French journalists asking the same thing, this time with responses in French. Lastly came 20 more English-speaking hacks with Remco giving the same answers for the third time in a third language.

Long had the rest of his team retired back to their rooms and Evenepoel was still fielding questions and all with a cheeky smile and tongue-in-cheek tone. One journalist reminded him of how he said at the same meeting 12 months previous that he didn’t expect to win in his debut year. He looked at the journalist, winked and said sorry for lying.

There was a sense of composure and professionalism I saw in Evenepoel which would be highly admirable for any professional cyclist, let alone one who is still a teenager. It seemed like he was born to do this.

If Remco takes pink in Budapest in May, he will be one of the youngest riders to pull on the jersey. And to do so, he will have to beat riders of the calibre of Rohan Dennis, a double World Champion, and Hour Record holder Victor Campenaerts.

And the craziest thing about it all is that this scenario is plausible, even if not highly likely. Because with Remco, it seems as if the unimaginable does not exist and that his crazy teenage pipe dreams are just realistic goals for a generational talent.