ARANDA DEL DUERO, Spain (VN) — There’s a growing confidence inside Remco Evenepoel that should make his rivals worried.
The 20-year-old budding Belgian superstar charismatically brushed his shoulders as he emphatically crossed the line victorious in Thursday’s summit finale at the Vuelta a Burgos.
That finish-line flourish underscored how convincingly he had just brushed off his rivals in Europe’s first major summit finale since March.
“I’m improving, I’m more experienced. I learn a lot,” Evenepoel said Thursday. “I train better and harder than the last couple of years. I am not going to say more, just more strict.”
So much for a sophomore jinx.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that Evenepoel is only in his second pro season. Last year, he ripped the legs off the peloton on more than a few occasions. His dramatic attacks, winningly effective based on his pure class, were often written off as youthful exuberance.
Insiders harrumphed that it’s one thing to surprise the bunch and win a few times based on bluster and pure muscle. It’s quite something else to play the long tactical game needed to truly reach the top of the peloton.
Though we’ve only seen a few glimpses of Evenepoel so far in this truncated season, his win Thursday confirmed that Evenepoel is now backing up that youthful passion with more tactical insight.
And that should make his rivals very worried, especially going into the Giro d’Italia in October. Though it’s still a long way off, and Evenepoel will be a grand tour rookie, his improving racing acumen will make him a podium favorite, if not a real threat for the pink jersey.
Evenepoel is a student of his trade, and he couldn’t be in a better racing school than Deceuninck-Quick-Step. Racing this week with the likes of Yves Lampaert and Michael Mørkøv is like taking a class of Racing Tactics 101 for Evenepoel.
“No one was panicking,” Evenepoel said when the pack broke up in crosswinds in the stage. “When you have a guy like Michael Mørkøv, he knows what he’s doing, and how to read the situation. He knows what he is doing.”
Mitchelton-Scott then threw down the hammer to take control of the pace on the final climb. The Aussie outfit wanted to impress on favored terrain, and set a blistering pace that soon fractured the front group. Evenepoel was playing the waiting game.
“I knew one of them was going to attack, so I kept following, kept pushing. So when Chaves made a big attack, I followed,” he said. “I was just following the wheels, and see if I could match their rhythm. In the end, some big attacks from Chaves really hurt, but my attack was the good attack of the day.”
With wind and heat piling on during the steep climb, Evenepoel might have blindly thrown himself into the fray. But it’s obvious he’s a quick learner. He could see that Esteban Chaves was the strongest in the group, and after the tiny Colombian made two surges, Evenepoel pounced.
“Chaves went two times hard right before, so that’s why I went. I kept my same gear, but a higher cadence, then you go faster, you know,” he said. “I was not really focusing on Landa or Carapaz because I could see that Chaves was the best climber of the day. So I was focusing on him. I knew he was going to attack and go alone on those steep parts, because he is a really lightweight.
“The first thing was not to lose any time on today’s climb, and if there was an opportunity, I should go,” he said. “There was a small voice inside my head that said, now is the moment!”
And boom! The elastic snapped, and Evenepoel was gone.
It was still 2km from the summit, relatively long by modern racing standards, even more so on a climb that wasn’t that long to begin with.
Evenepoel unzipped his jersey and dropped the hammer.
“I was suffering at that moment, so normally, the others would be suffering too,” he said. “Then I knew if I would speed up, not with an explosive attack, but with a steady speeding up attack, that they would probably crack.
“It was still 2km to go, and with that wind, it was steep as well,” he explained. “No regrets – I won.”
And that finish-line victory salute?
The Belgian media jumped all over it, calling the gesture, “The Remco.”
Perhaps taking a sign from rapper Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” Evenepoel seems to be flicking rivals with more regularity.
Thursday’s marked his sixth win in 2020, and everyone knows what a mess 2020 has been. What hasn’t changed in lockdown is Evenepoel’s style and panache.
What has changed since 2019 is Evenepoel’s racing acumen. And he’s only getting smarter.
Scary, especially if you’re racing against him.