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Evenepoel targeting worlds, Olympics for sophomore season

Belgian phenomenon will aim for cycling's biggest prizes in his second season that will likely include a grand tour debut.

Remco Evenepoel is shooting for the stars in his sophomore season.

The teenaged Belgian phenomenon, who turns 20 in January, will be targeting two of professional cycling’s most prized titles in 2020: the Olympic gold medal and the rainbow jersey.

“If you are Olympic champion, you will be eternal,” Evenepoel told the Belgian daily HLN. “And the worlds, there’s no greater honor in cycling.”

Evenepoel is still flying high from his breakout rookie season. After jumping straight from the junior ranks to the WorldTour with Deceuninck-Quick-Step, he surpassed expectations at every turn in 2019. His victories at the Clásica San Sebastián and his silver-medal ride at the world time trial championship in September confirmed his class in a season that included five victories.

For 2020, Evenepoel hopes to keep the momentum going. Right now, he’s penciled in to make his season debut at the Vuelta a San Juan International in Argentina. The Argentinian race is where he made his WorldTour debut in January this year and saw him on the attack, winning the youth classification and taking third in a time trial stage. That performance hinted at the big things to come.

What about the pressure? Evenepoel says he doesn’t let it bother him. In fact, it only fuels his ambitions for his second season racing at the top.

“I don’t fear a setback. I won’t allow that in my mind,” he continued. “Sometimes the results won’t match the expectations. Losing is part of the sport. I only ask for patience and understanding. I learn from my mistakes, and I make sure they do not happen again.”

Evenepoel, who has been in Spain with his teammates for a pre-season training camp, returns to Belgium for a gala for the best Belgian rider prize. Other finalists include Philippe Gilbert, Wout van Aert, Victor Campenaerts, Greg Van Avermaet, and Thomas De Gendt.

Evenepoel said he also believes he can develop into a grand tour rider, and downplayed suggestions from some insiders, including Philippe Gilbert, who believe that Evenepoel might struggle in the high mountains against the pure climbers. Evenepoel said he’s relishing future clashes with the likes of Egan Bernal (Ineos) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Emirates), the new stars of his generation.

“I’m already a good time trialist, and I can improve in the mountains,” he said. “I need to improve my climbing. I will do even more altitude camps. I was at Livigno [Italian Alps], and once I was acclimatized, I can hold my pace at above 2000m. I expect a big fight [with Bernal and Pogacar]. We will lift each other to a higher level.”

There are hints that Evenepoel will make his grand tour debut in 2020, with a possible tilt at the Giro d’Italia in May. Final calendars will be mapped out in the coming weeks.