Riding in his grand tour debut, the Belgian wunderkind has never raced this far before. His second-place position — just 14 seconds behind Egan Bernal — would be impressive enough even without the fact that the Giro d’Italia is his first race back after breaking his pelvis last season.
It can be easy to get carried away with Evenepoel’s ability to take on every new challenge like an experienced pro, but the young Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider has had to pinch himself a few times in the last week with how well he’s been performing.
“Yesterday, I got a small reminder on my phone and exactly three months ago I wasn’t even biking outside,” Evenepoel told the press from his hotel in Italy. “I was just going to the gym to get the muscles back, and the stability in the belly and the back. In the end, still, when I think about it, it’s crazy.
“Sometimes I want to forget it, but then when you have those uphill finishes you think actually it’s quite crazy that I’m here with the best climbers after three months of training and almost six or seven months with nothing. It’s amazing, it’s quite crazy what I’m doing right now.”
For now, Evenepoel appears to be holding up with few signs of his extended absence from racing other than perhaps some explosivity in the early hilly stages.
“Until now, everything has gone well but after nine months out of competition I don’t know how I will react and feel on the next rest day and all these other days,” Evenepoel said.
“I started to feel the legs in the last days, but I hope everyone started to feel the legs. After the first week in my first grand tour to be second to the winner of the Tour de France is like a dream. I’m just really happy with where I and we are.
“We are just having fun and everything is going well so far and we hope that we can continue like this.”
A new rivalry with Bernal
While the expectation might be growing among those watching the race, Evenepoel says he’s just happy to be on his bike and having fun in the race. However, the world will watch in earnest as he and the more experienced, yet still equally young, Bernal go toe to toe in the general classification.
With differing goals over the previous two years, the pair have rarely crossed paths in the professional peloton. In fact, the only time they have contested a competitive race together was the Clásica San Sebastián in 2019 — which Evenepoel won and Bernal crashed out.
“We never raced in the juniors or the under 23, well definitely not the under 23. We saw each other for the first time in a criterium in Belgium in Aalst and then the week after it was San Sebastián,” said Evenepoel. “It was the first time we have really raced against each other. We have had some good chats, very cool and relaxed. It’s just an honor to be able to race against somebody who won the Tour de France.”
The first week of racing has been promising for Evenepoel and he has been there or thereabouts in each of the mountain stages. However, things are still quite tightly packed together in the GC and Evenepoel knows that a lot can change over the next week.
“I think all the other GC guys are really close and maybe next week in this press conference I will be sitting in 6th place,” he said. “I think everyone in the top-10 is around one minute and all those guys haven’t lost the race yet.
“It’s always nice to be closest to the leader, but everybody knows that in the last week it’s not going to end on seconds but probably with minutes. It’s the case that you just try to be the strongest and always try to be as close as possible and not lose too much time,” Remco said.