Gilbert was Belgium’s last world champion until Evenepoel barnstormed to the title last month in Australia, and the pair shared an emotional moment on the winner’s podium after the race.
“It is symbolic that I am the last Belgian winner to pass on that rainbow jersey to Remco,” Gilbert said. “He is the image of the new generation.”
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Gilbert, 40, kicked to sixth in his final race on home roads, and will close out his long career with Paris-Bourges on Thursday and Paris-Tours on Sunday.
The transition from Gilbert to Evenepoel marks two decades of Belgian dominance in the new millennium, with Gilbert winning the world title in 2012 and four of cycling’s five monuments, the first rider in the new century to come close.
Evenepoel was just two years old when Gilbert turned pro in 2002.
Gilbert rides into the sunset this weekend, while Evenepoel, who won Belgium’s first grand tour since 1978 at the Vuelta a España, is poised to carry the torch into the next decade and lift Belgian cycling to new heights.
The pair was teammates briefly at Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl in 2019 and 2020, when a brash, young Evenepoel turned pro straight out of the juniors with everything to prove, and Gilbert was hot off winning Paris-Roubaix and nothing to prove.
“Remco will secure many more results and win great races,” Gilbert said Tuesday. “I’m glad I got to ride alongside him in the peloton.”
Evenepoel finishes ‘magical’ season in front of home crowds
Evenepoel was showing off his new rainbow bands on home roads in the first race since soloing to victory at Wollongong.
Evenepoel finished well behind the action, and rode across the finish line arm-in-arm with Quick-Step teammate Iljo Keisse, who also retires Sunday at the Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen.
Keisse was an important mentor for Evenepoel, and the newly crowned world champion wanted to tip his hat to his soon-to-be-former teammate.
“The legs were not so fresh today,” Evenepoel laughed to the TV cameras. “I heard on the radio that Iljo had been dropped and so I decided to wait for him, so that we could ride together to the finish in his last race. That seemed like a nice ending. He has been one of the most important riders in my career, I learned a lot from him.
“This was not pre-arranged with Iljo, but I just wanted to do it that way,” Evenepoel said. “In the end we especially enjoyed the moment. He thought I was crazy for doing it, but I didn’t want to let him ride alone.”
Evenepoel’s season is over, and he will now take a break, get married to his fiancé, and enjoy some quiet time following a what’s been a rollercoaster since claiming the world title.
“My season really couldn’t have ended better,” Evenepoel said. “The encouragement during the race was also brilliant. To put on the jersey is something magical.”