Will there be redemption for Remco Evenepoel in 2022?
After two years torn up by the pandemic and then a career-threatening injury, Remco’s sure hoping so.
And judging by his start to the season, he’s riding in the right direction.
Evenepoel finished second overall at the Volta a Comunitat Valenciana this weekend, capping five sizzling rides undone by just one gravel climb that flustered him and lost him the leader’s jersey.
“It’s been a perfect start for me,” he summarized Sunday.
Could this be the start of a season where it all comes together for the heavily-hyped wunderkind? A clear run at the calendar will give the world a chance to really see what he can do after two years of dodging pandemics and visiting physios.
Evenepoel’s surging solo victory on the Torralba del Pinar hilltop in his first race of the year made for the entrée to the “Evenepoel Show” last week. The 22-year-old was always in the camera’s lens, either because he was pulling on the front for sprint finishes or crumbling out of the back on the severe Antenas del Maigmó off-road climb.
Not bad for the first race of the year, right.
“It’s fantastic to start my season like this,” Evenepoel said after his stage win Wednesday. “Last year I had to start my season with a lot of doubts, now I can race directly at my best level. I knew I was good and the team knew it too. I was able to show my best values during the training sessions of the last few weeks.”
First clear run since racing as a rookie
This year is the first since his 2019 WorldTour debut that the world might see what Evenepoel can truly do.
The world caught COVID in 2020 and race form was a game of pot-luck as the peloton pedaled into the unknown.
Then last year, Evenepoel was in and out of the physio ward all the way through ‘til he rolled out of Turin for his Giro d’Italia debut – not that that stopped him setting light to the late season with a swathe of stage-race and one-day wins.
With ambitions for a full assault on the Ardennes and a stab at the Vuelta a España in 2022, Evenepoel is spreading his ambitions wide in the hunt to find out what he’s about. Judging by the past week, his weakness on the steepest climbs is the only handbrake on a massive long-range motor tailor-made for the all-day grind of Liège-Bastogne-Liège or a GC push at the Vuelta.
But heck, it’s only February and his team has time to iron out the creases.
“He was already good on training camp and if you are good on camp in our team, then you know somewhere that you are ready for the season,” team director Tom Steels told Sporza.
“Remco must be careful with his condition, because his goals are further away. But during this period, top talents such as Remco must also be able to gain 90 percent. He is good, but not top yet.”
2022: Welcome to the Remco show?
Evenepoel’s full calendar for 2022 reads like a highlights reel. Stops at Algarve, San Sebastián, and Burgos will see the 22-year-old return to the races that pumped him into the world’s eye through 2019 and early 2020.
If that’s a portent of 2022 being “Annus Evenepoel,” in some ways, he needs it.
Aside from the Tour of Poland and San Sebastián, Evenepoel’s 23-win haul remains short of WorldTour weight, and the Belgian home hype is yet to come into full bloom.
A marquee win in the Ardennes or something special in Spain could be what Evenepoel needs to rubberstamp himself as a heavyweight of the youth league alongside the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Egan Bernal.
Evenepoel doesn’t only carry the weight of Belgium’s hopes on his narrow shoulders.
Quick-Step has invested big in its home star, handing him a contract through 2026 and renewing a cast of top climbers to take Evenepoel to the top. And with João Almeida out of the frame, Evenepoel has the run of the Quick-Step stage-racing ship.
So far, he’s taken to that team leadership like a duck to water.
Questions over team tactics and personal ambitions sparked by the Remco vs Wout van Aert Belgian worlds beef have been subdued after he spent the three sprint finishes in Spain pulling for Fabio Jakobsen rather than hiding in the wheels.
It didn’t always pay off, but you can’t question his enthusiasm. The kid wants wins, wherever they come from.
The world has long been waiting for Evenepoel to fly high. This past week in Valencia may be the start of his 2022 runway.