Remco Evenepoel made the transition from boys to men without a hitch.
A year after romping to gold in the junior world time trial, a result that opened the door to the WorldTour, the 19-year-old proved he deserved a spot among the elite, riding to silver in the elite men’s time trial Wednesday.
“Right now I feel like 50 years old,” he said with a laugh. “The biggest challenge today was to hang on. It was the longest time trial today we did all season.”
Wednesday was the latest chapter in Evenepoel’s incredible rookie season.
In his elite worlds’ debut, only one rider could better him in a field packed with experienced and ambitious riders. It took near-perfect execution from the defending TT world champion Rohan Dennis (Australia) on the 54km technical route to knock the precocious talent out of the hot seat.
“I cannot say that I am disappointed,” Evenepoel said. “Dennis was too strong. He is the worthy winner.”
With silver in his elite men’s world’s debut, you can bet that he’ll be making the front pages of the Belgian newspapers tomorrow.
There was already growing hype going into Wednesday’s race, but the ever-cool Evenepoel downplayed his chances, saying he’d be happy to settle with a top-five finish. Once out on the rolling, technical course on narrow roads, Evenepoel’s natural talent and racing instinct took over.
“I opened up the gas on the second half of the course,” he said. “I made time on everyone except Dennis. I just missed a little bit of power on the flatter sectors compared to the bigger guys.”
All season long, the Belgian phenomenon has been surpassing expectations. High-profile victories at the European road championships and the Clásica San Sebastián only heightened anticipation for Wednesday’s battle in Harrogate.
Last year, Evenepoel’s double-gold medal performance in Austria, when he won the time trial and road titles in dramatic fashion, opened up a bidding war for his services. As the most highly touted Belgian to come along since Tom Boonen, Evenepoel has surpassed predictions at nearly every turn during his rookie season.
“Coming to the WorldTour so fast was a big challenge, but I think I proved more and more through the season that I deserved my place,” he said. “I really didn’t believe I could do it today and I will only be more motivated for next winter.”
Deceuninck-Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere, who won the bidding war for the most sought after contract of 2019, said his pupil’s world’s performance serves as another reminder of just how good he is.
“He has surprised up for a whole year,” Lefevere told Sporza. “This is totally unexpected, but so fantastic. I saw it in his eyes in his last interview before the race, but you still have to do it. Everything he does is above expectations.”
Evenepoel downplayed his chances for a miracle on Sunday, and hinted that the Belgian team will rally around former world champion Philippe Gilbert and Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet.
After such a spectacular debut, what does Evenepoel have in mind to top in 2020? The Olympic gold medal, of course.
“That is the big goal for next year,” he said of Tokyo 2020. “The rest of the racing will be in function of that.”
Evenepoel is ever the cool cat. So far, it doesn’t appear his heady success has gone to his head. Just minutes after crossing the finish line, he was already talking about carrying momentum into the winter training season.
He turned his back on a promising soccer career to only take up cycling when he was in his teens. He’s still in his teens, and just won a world championship medal, a testament of how far and fast he’s risen in the ranks.
“In my youth, I had some difficult moments, so in my mind, I feel a bit older,” he said. “I still have fun, but I am really busy with my job. I do not listen to what other people say. I only listen to my coach, to Patrick Lefevere, and a few people who are helping me become what I want to become.”
So far, what Evenepoel wants, he seems to be getting.