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SAN JUAN, Argentina (VN) — Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) celebrated his first success as a WorldTour professional cyclist at 19 years old: the Vuelta a San Juan’s best young rider classification.
The Belgian, who leapt from the junior to the professional ranks this winter, took home the green under-23 jersey after seven days of racing in Argentina’s western province on the border with Chile.
“It feels amazing to win a jersey in my first pro race,” Evenepoel said.
“Today there was only one thing to do and that was to watch out that Gino Mäder didn’t get any bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints. That’s why I went on the attack from the start to go in the break. Unfortunately, they closed us down.”
He secured the jersey, adding to the collection of wins by Belgian super-team Deceuninck-Quick-Step. The squad won twice with Julian Alaphilippe this week and led the race for two days. Alaphilippe also finished second behind overall champion Winner Anacona (Movistar).
Evenepoel held on by just two seconds, with first-year professional talent Gino Mäder (Dimension Data) breathing down his neck prior to the final stage.
“I talked to Gino and he told me they were not going to sprint for the time bonuses because they were focused on the finish sprint,” added Evenepoel.
“We went all in for Alvaro Hodeg. He was unlucky to get second but I think we did a great job as a team this week. We won two stages and had a lot of podiums, second in the GC and this jersey.”
Hodeg ended the stage around the province’s capital city, where fans poured out along the ring road, second to Irish winner Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Evenepoel does not wear the rainbow bands, but he won them as a junior in both the world championship time trial and road race last September. Those wins closed a season that included 23 victories. Every stage race he entered, he won.
“The pressure and expectation is not a problem for me because I really don’t care about it,” continued Evenepoel.
“The crowd was really crazy and it’s nice to race in South America in front of such good crowds. I can only say to the other WorldTour teams that they should come and race here.”
The team is breaking in Evenepoel gradually. He seems cool and manages the races and media well. In San Juan, he found himself already tested when teammate Iljo Keisse was caught up in a storm and booted from the race after making a lewd gesture toward a woman during a group photo.
Evenepoel rode for Alaphilippe, the young rider classification, and the stage win in the time trial. He sat in the hot seat in the time trial stage, with only Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) and teammate Alaphilippe topping him. The experience on and off his bike will pay off as he races through the 2019 season. Next up, the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal and the UAE Tour.
“I’ve just started racing and I’m not in very good shape yet, this was just a preparation race. I think my shape is good but hopefully I can only get better and better,” he said.
“When you start your first week of racing without expectations and then you get a jersey and ninth in GC, I think I can be very proud of the results. We did everything we could and we can be proud of our results.”