While van der Poel and his Alpecin-Fenix team’s Tour de France dream will have to wait another year due to the UCI refusing to bend its regulations around participating teams, Evenepoel’s plan to ride his debut grand tour at this year’s Giro d’Italia is still set to go ahead as anticipated.
Van der Poel’s Tour dream put on pause
In the weeks prior to the UCI’s confirmation of the new WorldTour calendar Tuesday, ProTour team Alpecin-Fenix had not been shy in making clear its ambitions to ride the Tour de France.
The Belgian team had failed to receive a wildcard invite to the Tour when ASO made their selections in January this year. At the time, this was no issue for van der Poel, who had set his mind on a summer on the mountain bike ahead of an anticipated Olympic challenge. When the Olympics were put on pause, Alpecin-Fenix turned their attention to the Tour, with van der Poel even considering petitioning for a start for his team.
Van der Poel’s Tour hopes brightened when riders’ union the CPA proposed to the UCI that grand tours teams be reduced to seven riders from the norm of eight, so allowing more two more teams to take part, offering a potential lifeline to outfits feeling the financial pinch from the coronavirus racing-stop.
Those hopes were dashed Tuesday when the UCI confirmed that grand tour teams would remain at eight riders, with no extra squads invited to race.
“There was never any question of inviting additional teams to the Tour. I never heard anything about that during our meetings,” UCI boss Christian Prudhomme told L’Equipe this week. “The manager of Mathieu van der Poel’s squad has called me. But even if a team is lost, we will not invite another team.”
Despite the protestations from the Alpecin-Fenix boss, van der Poel appeared to take the blow in his stride.
“I am disappointed that I am not allowed to ride the Tour. It had looked like the Tour would be the only major event on the redesigned cycling calendar,” Van der Poel told Sporza’s Extra Time Koers.
With the UCI’s new-look calendar opening early August at Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo, and offering a solid block of classics after the Tour in October, the Dutchman can instead focus on the monument targets he set himself at the start of the season. Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, and Tour of Flanders are all now a likelihood – and who knows, maybe even the Ardennes races.
“If the calendar stays as it is now, I think I have plenty of other great classics to show myself in,” van der Poel said. “The Flemish and Italian races would take precedence anyway. I have not yet thought about the Walloon classics.”
Evenepoel’s Giro target intact – and Contador thinks he can win
20-year-old wunderkind Remco Evenepoel will start his first-ever grand tour this year, in only his second WorldTour season.
At the start of the year, the young Belgian was planning to start the Italian race after a run in the Ardennes at Amstel Gold Race and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, originally planned for April. However, when the UCI’s new calendar left riders with a choice between the Giro or the majority of the classics, Evenepoel and his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team were forced to make a call.
“Remco will ride the Giro this fall,” team boss Patrick Lefevere told Extra Time Koers. “We don’t want to deviate from his program in that area. It is sad that he cannot participate in Liège-Bastogne Liège. But Remco is only 20. Imagine he was already 37. That would be something different.”
And far from going to his first grand tour to gain experience in three-week racing, Alberto Contador thinks Evenepoel has the cojones to take the maglia rosa.
“I’m sure he can already win the Giro this year,” Contador told Sporza.
“His values indicate that he can already participate for the victory, although we still have to see it day after day,” the retired Spanish grand tour said. “20 minutes is not the same as three weeks. Will he be just as strong in the third week?”
With Deceuninck-Quick-Step lacking the grand tour firepower of the likes of Team Ineos or Jumbo-Visma, Contador felt that the Italian race offered Evenepoel a greater shot in the GC battle.
“I think it is a good choice that he chose the Giro to make his debut,” Contador said. “Not because all the top players will choose the Tour this year, because there will also be someone like Nibali starting in Italy. But because it will be more in the Giro is a man-to-man fight. To participate in the Tour, you also need a strong team for the mountains and Deceuninck-Quick Step doesn’t have that yet. “