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Vuelta a Espana

Remco Evenepoel says Tadej Pogačar is ‘still the best rider in the world’

Belgian defends Pogačar against suggestion that he 'cracked' during the Tour de France: 'What Tadej did is still incredible.'

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Remco Evenepoel has nothing but respect and admiration for Tadej Pogačar despite the Slovenian’s recent loss at the Tour de France.

Evenepoel, who could make his Tour debut in 2023, said the respect runs deep inside the WorldTour peloton for Pogačar despite the UAE Team Emirates star falling short of a quest for a third consecutive yellow jersey.

“In my eyes, he is still the best rider in the world,” Evenepoel said. “We cannot talk about a ‘loss’ or a ‘crack’ with Tadej, and we should still show our respect because what he did is also phenomenal.

“The day that Jumbo-Visma attacked him on the Galibier was one of the hardest days of his life. If you can handle it like that and still try to make the best out of it, then you only earn respect from all the riders and everyone inside and out of cycling. We should not talk in a negative way about Tadej.”

The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl star watched the Tour from afar in July, tuning in each afternoon during a high-altitude training camp in Italy to prepare for his debut at the Vuelta a España this month.

“He really didn’t crack, he just lost time two times, which can happen to anybody,” Evenepoel said in a media call. “I don’t think you can talk about a bad Tour. He won three stages, and was second on GC, won the white jersey.

“For sure, he is the guy that won the Tour twice in a row and also knowing that Jumbo-Visma is stronger and more stable than UAE. What Tadej did is still incredible. He did a lot of things alone in the last week.”

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Evenepoel returned to racing in trademark panache to attack alone to win the Clásica San Sebastián in late July in what was his first race since the Belgian nationals in June.

Rather than race the Tour this year, Evenepoel went to the Italian Alps for a high-altitude camp in Livigno to prepare for his Vuelta debut on August 19 in Utrecht. After training each day, he and his teammates watched the Tour every day.

He also tipped his hat to the team tactics and overall dominance displayed by Jumbo-Visma as the Dutch franchise won its first yellow jersey with Jonas Vingegaard.

“We followed the Tour for the full three weeks. It was a very fast and difficult Tour. The guys of Jumbo made it look easy, but it was quite difficult for everybody,” he said. “Jumbo didn’t surprise, but what they did with the full team was quite impressive.

“It was beautiful to watch. They had a big plan before going to the Tour and they showed to the whole world what their plan was, I can only take my hat off to what they did. It was beautiful to watch and it was a nice TV after some long training.”

When asked if he hopes to be one day racing against the likes of Pogačar, Vingegaard, and Egan Bernal for the yellow jersey, his reply was precise.

“That would be a dream,” Evenepoel said.

‘Stage wins are the main goal’ at the Vuelta a España

All roads lead toward the Vuelta after Evenepoel’s second San Sebastián victory. (Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

For the Vuelta, Evenepoel again downplayed his GC expectations in his debut at the Spanish grand tour.

“If I can go out of the Vuelta with a stage win or two, then you can speak about a good Vuelta,” he said. “The main goal is to win a stage, and everything GC-wise that will come will be extra. The start of the Vuelta is mainly with the focus on stage wins, especially stage 10 in the time trial and the team time trial in stage 1.”

Evenepoel said his weight loss, about 2kg less than two years ago, will help him on the steepest, most decisive climbs in Spain. The memory of the 2021 Giro d’Italia is still on his mind, when he came close to the pink jersey but eventually abandoned, so he is tempering his pre-race public statements.

“GC-wise, I cannot say anything, because it can go wrong on any day,” he said. “Stage wins are the main goals.”