According to Patrick Lefevere his young Vuelta a España leader Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) could not have done any more in relation to his preparation and training for the Spanish grand tour.
Evenepoel heads to the Vuelta with genuine hopes of mounting a respectable GC challenge but the 22-year-old is also looking for his first grand tour finish having crashed out of last year’s Giro d’Italia despite a very promising start.
The Belgian rider has been in incredible form over the last few weeks with a dominant win in San Sebastian and a national time trial championship title added to his already extensive palmarès.
Evenepoel’s powers in week-long stage races are well known but his three week caliber remains slightly unclear at this stage of his career. He certainly doesn’t lack the talent but consistency over three weeks still remains somewhat of an unknown according to Lefevere.
‘Realistically it’s a mystery for us,” Lefevere told VeloNews when asked how the Belgian might perform at the Vuelta.
“We have no precedent. We know that he can win Algarve and everyone says that’s easy, but in Switzerland he had a bad day and then everyone shoots at him, but he’s a winner, he’s a killer. He went deep to win in Norway, even though it was less important than Switzerland. For him, winning is winning. He sacrifices everything to win. Between Norway and Switzerland he probably wasn’t totally recovered but now we give him all the recovery possible between training and rest.
“I don’t know what more he could have done to be ready for the Vuelta. If he gets a result it’s fantastic. If he doesn’t there will be some disappointment but if you look back he still won 10 or 11 races with two classics. Lots of riders go home with not even 20 percent of that.”
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Lefevere also praised the rider’s commitment and work ethic, pointing out that despite his young age Evenepoel had trained like a mature and experienced grand tour leader this season. Altitude training camps have peppered his summer and the relative solitude has not been a factor on the young rider’s attitude or application.
“It’s an amazing job what he’s done,” Lefevere told VeloNews.
“Not just now but the entire year since Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He’s sacrificed a lot for months of training without competition and that’s not easy. He’s really strong in the head because that commitment is a lonely job, and the hours on the bike need to be put in. Even if you’re not alone, and you have a soigneur with you, it’s an incredible sacrifice and dedication.
“When you have a bad day at a camp it’s easy to turn around and go back to the hotel but he had a scheme and a program and every day he stuck to it no matter what his feelings were. Chapeau.”
The Vuelta route certainly gives Evenepoel a great chance of starting the race on the front foot with an opening team time trial and then a 31km individual time trial on stage 10. At that point Lefevere will know whether his young leader can mount a GC challenge.
“We start with ambitions with the TTT and normally that’s one of the specialties for our team but we’re not alone on that side. We’ve also not just put our strongest riders in a team for that because there’s more than just the TTT at the Vuelta. It’s a three week race and we’ll see where we are at Calpe after the individual time trial. If we’re still in the race for a top-ten with Remco, then we’ll go for it,” the team boss added.
Can Julian Alaphilippe save his season?
One rider who will join Evenepoel at the Vuelta a Espana is Julian Alaphilippe.
The French world champion has had a horrific experience this year with illness and injury but he remains a genuine outlet for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl success at the Vuelta if he can find his top form.
There have been brief moments of success this year but they have often come after major setbacks. Missing the Tour de France was a huge but expected blow given his health but with a run of form the Frenchman is certain to play a part in the Vuelta.
“Julian is a bit of a mystery this year. The whole season he has fought against bad luck. He was sick before the Tour de Provence, he was sick afterwards and it’s been one bad year for him. He won a stage in Pais Basque but a good Julian wins three stages there. He goes to the Vuelta but he had that crash in Liège, he was out until Wallonie, wins the first stage and then he’s out with COVID,” Lefevere said.
Alaphilippe will also target the world championships later this summer. He will aim for a third-straight rainbow jersey, a feat that would put him on the same number of titles as Peter Sagan. Lefevere is a huge admirer of the rainbow jersey and what it signifies within the sport but he also knows that the Frenchman cannot make up for lost ground this season.
It’s a frustrating situation for all involved but Lefevere will no doubt be hoping that his talisman can takes state wins in Spain before heading to Australia to make history once more.
“Everyone knows that I’m in love with the rainbow jersey. For him, being a three-time world champion would be amazing and it would put him next to Sagan but it doesn’t compensate for the year. What I pay him to perform for the year, even with the bad luck, I still have to pay another bonus if he wins Worlds,” Lefevere said.