Belgium could have two Eddy Merckx-a-likes on its hands.
Ilan Van Wilder is locked onto Remco Evenepoel’s wheel in the race to become the modern-day “Cannibal.”
“If Remco is the new Merckx, then he is also the new Merckx,” Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team director Rik van Slyke told VeloNews. “There are a lot of nicknames and comparisons, so it’s better we don’t do it and take them as they are. But they both are, or will be, very big riders.”
Van Wilder, 21, makes his debut for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl at the Tour de la Provence this week after a high-profile split from Team DSM in the off-season. “The Wolfpack” is braced for big things from its young cub.
“If you look to how he was, Ilan could be very, very big,” van Slyke said on a call this week. “If it goes well he will be launched and could do some special things this season. But if he struggles to find his rhythm, which I don’t expect, it might be a bit more difficult.”
Also read: Tour de la Provence preview
Van Wilder emerged as the “next big thing” of Belgian cycling in 2019 with his third-place finish at the talent-marking Tour de l’Avenir.
Eighteen months with DSM in 2020 and early last season saw the supertalent bothering the top of WorldTour results-sheets in ITTs and kicking with the cream of the climbers in the hills. Then things turned sour with the German squad in the summer, and a long and messy divorce played out as Van Wilder battled to break contract.
Court cases came and went, accusations flew, and eventually an agreement was reached. DSM released its young talent ahead of time, and Quick-Step snapped up its next home talent.
Van Slyke said Van Wilder is loving life again after his tumultuous exit from DSM, and that Quick-Step is taking a steady-steady approach in the quest to unlock Van Wilder’s Merckxian best.
“If he can clear his mindset, like it was before, he could be a huge rider. We want to let him find his way in the team with Julian [Alaphilippe] and the other guys, to try different races without stress or pressure, and then for sure, we think he will perform,” van Slyke said.
“The only thing is to see how fast he can get adapted, and how fast he can find good feelings and joy and happiness in cycling again. It looks good for the moment, but it depends how he reacts in the races. But we see no reason why he can’t do something very special.”
Stay tuned to the Tour de la Provence this week to see if Belgium’s “next big thing” blossoms early in the French spring.