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Tirreno-Adriatico: Remco Evenepoel motivated for first stage race clash with Tadej Pogačar

Two of the peloton's brightest young stars finally square off at Tirreno-Adriatico in highly anticipated duel.

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LIDO DI CAMAIORE, Italy (VN) — It’s almost hard to believe, but Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar have never squared off against each other in a stage race during their short but spectacular careers.

All that changes this week at Tirreno-Adriatico.

“We all know who the guy is to beat this week,” Evenepoel said of Pogačar. “If you see him riding the races he did, he looks quite unbeatable.”

Either by coincidence or design, neither of the peloton’s brightest young stars have tested their mettle directly against one another in a stage race. In 2021, one went to the Giro d’Italia, the other to the Tour de France.

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Their schedules have crossed at one-day races and in international competition, but this week’s “Race of the Two Seas” is the first time they will go up against one another in a major stage race.

“It’s a bigger challenge than the other ones,” Evenepoel said in a media call Sunday. “I am here to develop again and open my eyes, and put in some nice performances in the next couple of days.”

Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl brings a strong team with Kasper Asgreen and Julian Alaphilippe, who confirmed he will start Tirreno on Monday despite his heavy crash in Strade Bianche on Saturday.

UAE Team Emirates is backing Pogačar, who blasted to victory Saturday in an epic 50km solo breakaway to win Strade Bianche. Pogačar confirmed that defending his Tirreno-Adriatico crown is his first major goal in 2022, and that puts him directly in the battle against Evenepoel.

The Belgian star at Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl is hot off a victory at the Volta ao Algarve, and he knows Pogačar is the rider to beat.

When asked what it’s like to watch and race against Pogačar, Evenepoel said riders can never lose faith.

“Just like last year at Flanders, everyone thought van der Poel would win. We always have to believe in ourselves, even if there is one guy better than all the others,” Evenepoel said. “It’s an honor to race with such a big talent and rider, it’s nice to tell the grandkids someday who you raced with. It’s only a pleasure, but sometimes it’s a lot of pain as well.”

To win Tirreno, both Pogačar and Evenepoel will have to limit their losses in the opening stage time trial on Monday. Though short, the course should tip in favor of Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), the world time trial champion.

“It’s the same thing as racing against Pogačar, he’s the best in the world,” Evenepoel said. “I will try to compete against him as fast as possible. We will see what it brings, I have some good feelings in the legs and in the head, so I hope to make his life quite difficult tomorrow.”

This year’s Tirreno’s course is flipped upside down. Instead of closing with a time trial, the test against the clock comes on the first day.

Also missing is a big summit finish in the middle of the week. Those changes should make it more difficult for any single rider to stamp their authority on the race.

“If you lose time you have to be aggressive,” Evenepoel said of the time trial. “It’s not long enough to make big, big differences. Everyone can ride 14km quite fast.”

It won’t be just Remco vs. Tadej all week long. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), another fast-rising 20-something, will have something to say about it as well.

The “WolfPack” promises to close ranks.

“Remco knows why he is here, and everyone will be all around him,” Alaphilippe said.

“We will never ride against each other,” Evenepoel said of Alaphilippe. “We are good friends. He is my idol. I would never do anything stupid to make Julian lose a race, never.”