After his impressive victory in his season opening Tour of San Juan in Argentina, Belgian standout Remco Evenepoel will be racing in the Tour of Algarve this week. He is, of course once again, a favorite. Evenepoel has had nothing short of a meteoric rise ever since he abandoned a promising career in soccer to focus on cycling, less than five years ago. And he has been on a stiff learning curve since turning professional just last year. Barely 20, Evenepoel already enters every race as a favorite. And he must deal with the accolades of the Belgian media, that are already calling him the next Eddy Merckx to boot.
But Evenepoel takes it all in stride with an uncanny nonchalance. And he is nothing short of a joy to interview. Fluent in several languages, his responses are quick, witty and to the point. VeloNews caught up with him in Argentina to look back on his stunning first season, with victories in the Clasica San Sebastian as well and the European time trial championships, but also on his expectations in the upcoming season and beyond.
VeloNews: Remco, you had an amazing first year. What did you learn most from your first year as a professional?
Remco Evenepoel: Everything! You can’t learn enough in your first year as a pro. Every small detail that every rider gave me I just picked up and put it in my backpack and tried to put it on my bike and take it to my room, just everything.
VN: What do you think you gained the most in your first year: experience or physical strength?
RE: Both. I became physically stronger and I have a better tactical sense now. My weight is better. Everything is just better. Normally everything should be better than last year.
VN: What have you learned in your first year working with leaders like Philippe Gilbert, and Julian Alaphilippe?
RE: They have given me so much advice on all aspects of being a pro. How to race, how to rest, everything. It’s hard to explain in detail and at some point you have to make your own decisions, your own moves. But whenever they tell me something, it is for a reason.
VN: What is it like riding with Alaphilippe? I mean he is such a big talent, and after his last Tour de France, such a big star.
RE: Julian is just a normal guy. He never acts like a star and is just himself on the team. Sometimes he can be a bit crazy, but that is who he is. For me he never has to change.
VN: You are 20 years old and you are just a second-year professional, but you are already a big star. What is it like being invited to all of the press conferences, always signing autographs and having microphones in your face. Is it overwhelming sometimes?
RE: For me it is just normal. I don’t like saying it really, but I know that I have already become one of the biggest stars in cycling. I don’t particularly want that, but it is just the way it is. But the team has prepared me for it, they have been working with me to deal with all of the attention. They really stress the importance of just remaining myself and just to take it as it is. They really don’t want me to focus on it otherwise the attention can become a burden, something that adds stress. I just try to take it in stride. I try to do my job. I know journalists must do theirs. Hopefully we’ll be working together for the next 15 years. Personally, I don’t feel pressure from the outside and I don’t put pressure on myself. I just have goals and want to achieve them. If I don’t manage to achieve them then I have to be honest with myself. If I’ve done everything to achieve them and failed then I have to accept that. But if I don’t do everything to achieve them, then I have to be honest with myself. It is important to know yourself.
VN: Does being a leader come easily? Giving orders or simply asking others to do something for you like get some water bottles, is not always easy, especially for young riders. Does leadership come easily for you?
RE: No, but in some races, even if I am leader, I will also help others. In races like the Tour of San Juan there are a lot of sprint stages and I can help with the lead outs. But that is the Deceuninck–Quick-Step spirit too. Here it is like a big family and I think few teams live as much purely for the sport. Here we are all fighting for victory and if your teammate wins it is like if you win.
VN: You are planning to do your first grand tour this year in the Giro d’Italia. Do you feel like you are ready for three weeks of racing?
RE: Not yet! But I still have a few months to go, so I still have time to prepare (he laughs)
VN: You came into cycling late, after years playing football. But you grew up in Belgium which has such a strong cycling tradition. Are you aware of cycling’s history. Does it interest you, or not so much?
RE: Yes of course. But now it is 2020. I don’t think you have to spend a lot of time looking back. I always like talking with cyclists from the past and hearing how it was for them. But for us the most important thing to do is to look forward, to work with the team and hopefully everything will go well in the season.
VN: What are the races that make you dream the most?
RE: The three grand tours. The world championships, and the Olympics.