Fans have always been able to get close to their cycling heroes. But in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, things are different.
“I hope that the people will also accept and respect that and not try to come too close to us, for taking pictures,” Evenepoel said Monday. “Today I got a little bit mad with somebody who came really close to our area with the bikes. I told him, ‘Can you please stay away?’ It seems that some people really forget quickly and they don’t think about the rules anymore. If they want the races to continue they should respect the rules and if they don’t want to, they should not, and then we have a problem. If people want the races to continue then they should respect the rules in my eyes.”
The budding Belgian superstar is among the top names for this week’s Vuelta a Burgos in cycling’s first major race since Paris-Nice, and after four months, fans want to see their heroes.
Evenepoel is telling everyone to stay back and enjoy the race — from a distance.
“How safe is it? I don’t know,” he said. “I am corona-free so I feel pretty safe. I try to adapt to the rules. I wear my mask every day, the only exception is on the bike and except in places where it is strange to wear them, for example at dinner. I try to do my best and try to keep the virus out of my body and for the moment I did pretty well.”
Evenepoel is part of a strong Deceuninck–Quick-Step team here in Spain in what’s the elite men’s peloton first major race since Paris-Nice. Officials and teams have worked hard behind the scenes to create as safe as possible racing conditions. Riders like Evenepoel have been tested several times ahead of training camps and the race in Burgos.
Evenepoel, speaking to journalists in a media call Monday, said he’s already accustomed to cycling’s new reality.
“It’s not that I’m not scared I’m just not thinking about it,” he said. “We are now here to race and I think that is a good point. And I’m really happy to be here. We get tested quite a lot so with the team and with the organization we try to keep the virus out of the bunch.”
And what about racing? Burgos is Evenepoel’s first step toward his season’s top goal at the Giro d’Italia in October. This week likely won’t be one for him to challenge for the GC, especially with the Giro more than two months away.
“I feel super excited,” Evenepoel said. “I mean, the ritual of race preparations and now it feels like it is the first day of school. It is a bit strange, it feels like my first race ever, again.”
“To be honest my big goals are later in the season so all of this starting material is 100 percent preparation trying to improve and get better in shape every day,” he said. “But of course if there are any chances to take a win, I will not let it go and try to go for it, but without stress. Let’s say the improvement of the shape is the most important point of this race.”