“I don’t think you can do better than the year I am having.”
That’s what Remco Evenepoel said after he rampaged into the rainbow jersey last month.
With monument, grand tour, and world title victories to his name, Evenepoel swept pro cycling’s biggest stages and soared to the top of the sport.
So was Evenepoel right? Did any rider go better than the Belgian’s blockbuster 2022 season?
Tadej Pogačar can make his case.
“It’s been a great season for me, and it’s ended in the best possible way,” Pogačar said after he sprinted to his second Il Lombardia victory in two years.
From the UAE to Canada and back to Italy, Pogačar won all season long in a calendar he described as “almost perfect.”
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Jonas Vingegaard may have beat Pogačar to the cycling’s crown jewel of the Tour de France, and Wout van Aert may have been wowed with his ability to crush across all terrain, but Pogačar and Evenepoel were the season’s two twinkling stars.
So how do their 2022 seasons stack up?
Here are the headlines:
- Pogačar: 54
- Evenepoel: 68
- Pogačar: 16
- Evenepoel: 15
- (For comparison, Wout van Aert won nine times in 2022)
- Pogačar: 25
- Evenepoel: 21
- Pogačar: 5131
- Van Aert: 4525
- Evenepoel: 4453
With 5131 WorldTour points and 16 victories, Pogačar is statistically the most “successful.”
He didn’t win the Tour, but he did top the podium almost everywhere else. Victories at the UAE Tour, Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, GP Montréal and Il Lombardia make for an eight-month stroll all around the circumference of the winner’s circle.
Add in second-place at the “grande boucle” and a debut ride to fourth at Tour of Flanders and it’s perhaps the most complete season palmarès in the peloton.
Tadej Pogačar won more UCI WorldTour level races in 2022 than Movistar, Lotto, EF, AG2R, Astana and Cofidis combined.
— Daniel Lloyd (@daniellloyd1) October 11, 2022
Exclude Pogačar’s three GC victories from his 16-win haul, and the UAE Emirates star won a startling 24 percent of the time he toed a startline.
And if he didn’t finish number one, you could make a pretty safe bet he hit top-3.
Evenepoel wasn’t as ruthless with his 68 racing days.
The still-maturing Belgian saw less of the WorldTour starts that put Pogačar by far on top of the UCI points ranking, but spent far more time in a grand tour leader’s jersey and made a habit of going big with barnstorming long-range breakaway wins.
Go big or go home
Pogačar won more, but let’s face it, Evenepoel won big.
There’s no playing down Pogačar’s portfolio of wins, which stretches from the gravel of Sienna to the hills of Québec and back. Three-quarters of his victories came out of the WorldTour, almost double the top-tier tally of Evenepoel.
But with victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Vuelta a España and road worlds, Evenepoel pulled a pick ‘n’ mix of the calendar’s biggest hits and bagged a slot in some of cycling’s most elite clubs.
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) September 25, 2022
Only Evenepoel, Alfredo Binda, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx have taken monument, grand tour, and worlds glory in one season. The 22-year-old joined Greg LeMond as the only rider to win both junior and elite men’s road world titles. His 2:21 winning gap in Wollongong was the largest margin of victory since Vittorio Adorni won by 9:50 in 1968.
Need we continue?
“The things that I have achieved this year, my season cannot be better, to win a monument, the rainbow jersey, and a grand tour,” Evenepoel said. “I think it will be very difficult to do that again.”
No true comparison and no grand tour clash on the horizon
There’s no fair way to compare riders’ calendars. Who says what criteria matter most?
And one further wrinkle in the impossible task of comparison is that Pogačar and Evenepoel surprisingly rarely faced-off this year.
Pogačar pummeled Evenepoel out of contention at Tirreno-Adriatico with his solo raid through Marco Pantani’s mountains. But Evenepoel beat a Tour-weary Pogačar at Donostia San Sebastian and topped Slovenia and the rest of the world when he rode solo to the rainbow stripes.
Also thanks to all riders and staff @TeamEmiratesUAE for these last weeks. 🙏
Tomorrow we roll into Paris for one final go 🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/FPnmdtwKxS
— Tadej Pogačar (@TamauPogi) July 23, 2022
Don’t go holding your breath for the grand tour collision we all want to see in 2023.
Pogačar is all-in for vengeance at the Tour, and the Vuelta will be a second thought. Evenepoel is edging toward next year’s Giro while a rookie three weeks in France waits for the future.
Instead, look to next year’s stage races and hilly monuments in anticipation of potential Pogačar-Evenepoel punch-ups.
“With what Evenepoel has achieved on the Vuelta, it is clear that he has the same potential as Tadej on the grand tours, which I would not necessarily have imagined last year,” Pogačar’s boss Mauri Gianetti said.
“There will be quite a rivalry between them in the future, especially since they both give the impression of racing without ever being afraid of losing.”
Bring it on.