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Remco Evenepoel on Liège-Bastogne-Liège: ‘The best Remco was out there today’

Evenepoel over the moon: 'It’s my dream race. It’s a race that I really wanted to win in my life once.'

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LIEGE, Belgium (VN) — Remco Evenepoel picked a pretty good place to make his race-winning move in his dramatic pro debut Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

The 22-year-old Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl stormed away from the field at the famous La Redoute climb at 30km from the finish and completed a long solo ride to cement his growing reputation as a winner, and to help save the spring classics season of his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team.

“To have a perfect day on the bike in my first Liège and to win my first monument is really special,” Evenepoel said. “La Redoute is one of my favorite climbs in the world. It’s really special for me to win the race there. It’s amazing. I think it’s a really difficult final to arrive alone.”

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By winning during his debut in Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the tender age of 22, Evenepoel added his name next to those other young riders who stormed to the front of the cycling scene during the last few years like Tadej Pogacar, Mathieu van der Poel and his compatriot Wout van Aert.

“That’s what we saw in the last couple of years. I’m really happy to win a race like this,” Evenepoel said. “It’s my dream race. It’s a race that I really wanted to win in my life once. In my first participation it’s quite crazy, quite unreal. I’m really proud I could finish it off with a plan that I had from yesterday on.

“What I showed today was actually really the plan, although maybe not to go alone from La Redoute immediately but with a group and then try to finish it off on the Roche-aux-Faucons climb or in the sprint.”

It was always obvious that Evenepoel had a bright future ahead of him when he won the 2018 Junior world championships on the road and time trial. He stormed into the pro scene in 2019 in the ranks of Patrick Lefevere and captured the win at the Clásica San Sebastián.

The media pegged him as the “new Eddy Merckx,” also hailing from the Brussels area. The COVID-19 pandemic paused his series of strong rides, but as racing commenced he won in Poland and Spain before he fractured his pelvis during a crash in the Italian monument Il Lombardia.

“It’s not a secret that since the crash of Lombardia there were a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “The last period I had more ups than downs. The only down I had was the queen stage in Tirreno where I lost my good GC spot.

“If you try to win and you finish it off, it is a big relief for myself. It’s proof to myself that I’m finally up there with the best guys in the world in this specific race,” he said. “My peak came on the perfect day, on a day I really wanted to be at my best.

Together with Wout van Aert, he is a poster boy for Belgian cycling. He is fluent in multiple languages and his way of talking attracts many fans as well as talking in third person about himself.

“The last few weeks and months I could feel that the real Remco was coming back,” he said.

“The best Remco was riding out there on the bike today. I was always relaxed, also in the final when they were coming closer I was not panicking because I kept believing in myself. All the negative points went away and turned into a big positive one with this trophy next to me.”

“Due to my crash I had to be patient. Last year I was always stressed and never sure of myself because I just felt that I wasn’t the Remco that I wanted to be. It’s been a rough period. Everybody in my family knows that. It was tough to stay motivated. There were a lot of moments when I started crying for no reason because I couldn’t find myself anymore in so many ways.”

Remco Evenepoel: ‘My power numbers on La Redoute attack were more like in a sprint’

Remco Evenepoel powered away from the bunch to win Sunday. (Photo: POOL PETER DE VOECHT/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Evenepoel has been training on the roads in the Ardennes many times since he turned his back to soccer after an injury despite a bright future that was ahead of him at the Anderlecht team.

“I think I could ride the final with my eyes closed although it wouldn’t be a good idea because there’s other riders too, ” he said. “This morning I sent a text message to my old trainer Fred Vandervennet that all the training rides we did were with the eye on this one. If I would win today it would be a victory that he was part of.

“Every training we did here was to get to know the roads as good as possible. For example on the descent of the Roche-aux-Faucons it’s easier to go full gas if you know the roads,” Evenepoel said. “I knew every pothole. For example, on the road where the big crash was, this road furniture was really bad and it was better to ride in the middle. I knew it was a dangerous point.

“Last week when I was here with my soigneur when we were out training he said that because of the tailwind this downhill would be very dangerous and tricky. That’s also where the crash happened.”

When asked whether he was as sure he would win as when he crushed the competition in the junior category, Evenepoel answered swiftly.

“For sure I wasn’t as sure as with the juniors because back then I won nearly every race but it’s clearly good for my confidence. Before the race I wanted to drop a bomb at La Redoute. Today I showed that I can do a good attack in a hard race,” Evenepoel said. “The level of the bunch is really high. I checked my power numbers after the race. The attack was more like a sprint.

“That’s how fast you have to go to drop WorldTour riders. To win a race like this is not easy but you have to believe in yourself if you know the preparation has been perfect. There were no excuses except bad luck. It’s a monument. Everybody wants to be in their best shape for a monument.”

Once more, there’s a bright future ahead of Evenepoel. Let the comparisons with Merckx commence all over again.