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Vuelta a Espana

Thomas De Gendt: ‘What Remco is doing at Vuelta a España is not beyond expectations’

Evenepoel is in pole position to become Belgium's first grand tour winner since Johan De Muynck won the Giro d'Italia in 1978.

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CABO DE GATA, Spain (VN) — Belgian riders are rejoicing Remco Evenepoel and his historic run in the red jersey at the Vuelta a España.

Evenepoel’s win in Tuesday’s time trial was the first by a Belgian rider against the clock at the Spanish grand tour in decades, and it firmly put Evenepoel into the race leader’s jersey going into the final 10 days of racing.

Thomas De Gendt, the expert stage-hunter on Lotto-Soudal, said Evenepoel and his GC rise is no surprise for insiders in the WorldTour peloton.

“I wouldn’t say what he is doing is beyond expectations,” De Gendt told VeloNews. “I have seen him ride in Calpe in training camps. I know the area well, and I know he trains on a big climb there, and he broke some records.

“And he’s showing himself on these steeps climbs here at the Vuelta,” he said. “I think the training paid off, and it’s not like it was a surprise for us, or that he came from nothing.”

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With Evenepoel nursing a solid lead, De Gendt said it won’t be easy for his rivals.

“I would say try to attack from far and to drop his teammates, but that will be difficult,” De Gendt said. “It is still 11 days. Anything can happen, and he can have a bad day. Or he could have another good day, and take another three or four minutes on everyone like he did at San Sebastián.”

Remco Evenepoel cools down after winning Tuesday’s time trial. (Photo: DAVID STOCKMAN/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Tim Merlier: ‘We have to see if he can do it’

Reigning Belgian champion Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) says Evenepoel is causing a stir back home.

“I think it’s really big for Belgian cycling, because it’s been a while since a Belgian guy has won a grand tour,” Merlier told VeloNews. “We have to see if he can do it. I know it’s big news back home, but I am at the Vuelta, and I am not seeing the newspapers now.”

Evenepoel is in pole position to become Belgium’s first grand tour winner since Johan De Muynck won the Giro d’Italia in 1978.

Merlier, who is hoping to win a stage before the Vuelta is out, is happy to see a compatriot ride so well.

“There are a lot of Belgian journalists, so I am happy for Remco,” Merlier said. “For sure if he can win a grand tour it’s already big, and if a Belgian can win it, it would be a big party back home.”