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Giro d'Italia

Remco Evenepoel: ‘The road to Tokyo goes through the Giro d’Italia’

Belgian superstar returns to racing for first time since his crash with 'no pressure, just fun.'

No pressure, just fun — that’s how Remco Evenepoel is facing his grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia.

The Belgian superstar lines up Saturday in his first race since crashing at Il Lombardia. Following a long, start-and-stop nine-month recovering period, the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider restarts the racing engine Saturday in Torino.

“I have not raced in so long now, I’m looking more now to have some fun,” Evenepoel said Wednesday. “It’s my very first race since crashing. I do not know how the body will react.”

All eyes will be on the 21-year-old in his grand tour debut. Many expect him to develop into a Tour de France contender, and see him as Belgium best chance to win its first grand tour since 1976 when Lucien van Impe won the Tour.

Evenepoel isn’t looking that far in advance, and was quick to tamp down expectations.

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Evenepoel has not clicked into the pedals for a race since August, and that did not end well. Evenepoel crashed into a ravine, and was lucky that his injuries were not worse. Officials slowed down his comeback in order to give him time to fully recover.

Far from ideal, Evenepoel opens up his grand tour racing career without having raced since August.

“I’ve done nearly two months at altitude, and I feel good,” he said in a media call. “Of course, racing is different than training. The most important thing is to be with the team and be a racer again.

“I have no pressure,” he said. “My main goal this year is the Olympic Games. The Giro will be part of the road to Tokyo. We will take it day by day.”

Evenepoel returns to racing for first time since crashing at Il Lombardia in August. Photo: Getty Images

Evenepoel joins teammate João Almeida, who emerged as one of the sensations in the Giro last year, wearing the maglia rosa for two weeks, and ending up fourth overall.

“Last year was amazing, but this year will be more complicated,” Almeida said. “Last year, we saw the last week is where the differences are made, so maybe I will try to save more energy for the final week. I’ve already seen in previous races that my rivals are looking at me more. I was unknown before.”

They’re not unknowns anymore.

Evenepoel, 21, and Almeida, 22, herald a new generation sweeping into the peloton. Both are taking their responsibilities for the Giro with relative ease, and seem unfazed at the prospect of going up against the likes of Egan Bernal or Vincenzo Nibali.

Evenepoel is happy that he will once again be a racing professional in just a question of hours.

“[Nine] months away from racing can make you sad. You are close to depression,” Evenepoel said. “I cannot wait to enjoy it again with the guys and make the best out of the race.”

Does he hope to challenge for the overall? A stage win? Something? For Evenepoel, the most important thing is to feel like a bike racer again.

“The first time getting out of the bed was really, really painful,” he said. “That was the most painful moment of my life so far.

“I didn’t sit on the sidelines for too long. I had to work. It was nice to see the guys winning races. It just gives you motivation to work even harder and to come back.”

Since then, Evenepoel attended a series of training camps, including two stints at altitude; first at Tenerife and next at Sierra Nevada.

“I will go all-out in the time trial Saturday,” he said. “I will do like I do for any time trial — just going full-gas. We’ll see, but it’s hard to imagine to beat the world champion [Filippo Ganna] in my first race in months.”

Remco is back — it’s hard to imagine him taking it easy for too long.