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Evenepoel reassessing worlds goals with venue change looking likely

A shift in world championships venue to Qatar may force Evenepoel to focus on the time trial rather than road race.

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Remco Evenepoel‘s sophomore season started with four clear goals, however, as the cycling world comes to terms with the coronavirus crisis, those ambitions are becoming more fluid by the week.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Giro d’Italia, the Olympic Games and the world championships road race marked the four peaks in Evenepoel’s ambitious 2020 calendar. After the global pandemic saw the racing season torn up and rearranged, the Tokyo Games have been crossed off Evenepoel’s hit list, and Liège has been sacrificed to make space for the Giro.

The latest target looking likely to change is the 20-year-old’s world championship plans.

Reports earlier this month suggested that the UCI is looking into shifting September’s worlds from Switzerland to either Qatar, Oman or the United Arab Emirates, where the coronavirus has been less devastating. Belgian outlet Het Nieuwsblad reported Thursday that Qatar is now becoming increasingly likely a venue. The shift in venue would also bring out a shift in racing dynamic, with the punchy course in Aigle-Martigny being replaced by a sprinter-friendly parcours in the flatlands of Qatar.

“I would be sorry if it becomes Qatar,” Evenepoel told Het Nieuwsblad. “The trail in Switzerland is beautiful. A rare opportunity for climbers or stage racers. For me, it was always one of my big goals. Should it not go ahead in Switzerland, I hope they will return at least one of the following years.”

“In Qatar, it will be a billiard surface course,” he continued. “If the world championship continues in Qatar, that means for me focusing on the time trial.”

Doha, Qatar, hosted the 2016 worlds, which wound up in a sprint victory for Peter Sagan after a race dominated by crosswinds. Patrick Lefevere, veteran manager of Evenepoel’s Deceuninck-Quick-Step team, showed his disapproval of a possible shift in venue, and certainly didn’t rate his young prodigy’s chances in a fast finish.

“Remco has many qualities, but [these] do not yet include sprinting and echelon riding,” Lefevere said. “Such a world cup will be inevitable in the desert. And if the peloton in Qatar tears to pieces, they will be able to pluck Evenepoel from a camel somewhere.”

Earlier this month, Evenepoel confirmed he would start his first-ever grand tour in Italy this October, a decision that ruled out a planned appearance at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

“I will miss Liège with a heavy heart,” Evenepoel said this weekend. “But within the team, everyone quickly agreed that the Giro was the best choice. Three weeks of racing to participate in the overall victory, I want to know what that is and how it feels. That is important for the coming years.”

Though the 2020 goalposts may be shifting, you wouldn’t rule Evenepoel from scoring at whatever he tries his chances at, and he knows it.

“I know that I am doing well, the team is satisfied with what I have done so far,” he said. “That is the most important.”