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“Someone should warn Evenepoel about what is coming his way, because that will be crazy,” Boonen told Het Laatste Nieuws. “Everyone is going to want a piece of him.”
Boonen knows better than anyone about what lies ahead after his 22-year-old compatriot won the UCI Road World Championship on Sunday in Wollongong.
Boonen also won his world title relatively young, at the age of 24 in 2005 in Madrid, and “Tomeke” soon became the most famous face in Belgian sports media for the better part of a decade.
Boonen told Het Laatste Nieuws that winning the world title will push “Remco Fever” to an even higher pitch than even after his Vuelta a España victory in early September.
“The year I became world champion, in 2005, was the busiest of my life,” Boonen said. “I was 24 and had won classics and monuments, but suddenly I was an international star overnight. The Vuelta was wow, but this is going to get a lot more international resonance. Now everyone is going to be pulling on his sleeve.”
Evenepoel hasn’t returned to Belgium since winning the Vuelta earlier this month, becoming Belgium’s first grand tour winner since 1978.
Belgian media, already in overdrive since his Vuelta victory, have turned up the volume even more since Sunday’s dramatic victory. Some newspapers are providing live updates of Evenepoel’s every move since he stood atop the winner’s podium Sunday in Wollongong.
Evenepoel and some teammates from the Belgian team watched a women’s basketball game Monday in Sydney featuring the Belgian national team, and then headed to the airport for the flight back to Belgium overnight.
Evenepoel will receive a hero’s welcome when he returns to Belgium. Local officials are scheduling a reception for Evenepoel at the Brussels city hall on Saturday, with a public presentation in the historic Grote Markt in front of thousands of fans.
“I hope that there will be a lot of people and that it won’t rain that day, that we can make it a beautiful moment,” Evenepoel said. “I love that my city wants to honor me. That would be really nice.”
Boonen suggests Evenepoel leave the media glare of Belgium
Boonen also cautioned Evenepoel to stay away from too many off-season parties and events, and even suggested he leave Belgium in order to avoid much of the media frenzy that is sure to follow.
“He should stay away from Schepdaal [Evenepoel’s hometown] and the surrounding area as much as possible,” Boonen said. “He has a permanent place in Spain to train, right? In his case, I would spend the winter there. He will find much more peace there than in Belgium. Have some family and friends around you and try to isolate yourself.”
Evenepoel promises not to fall into a winter of celebration and parties. In fact, on Sunday he confirmed that he does not even drink beer, let alone other alcohol.
Expectations are growing on whether or not Evenepoel will race next year’s Tour de France, or perhaps line up at Il Lombardia next month to show off the rainbow stripes before the season is over.
Boonen says Evenepoel is mature beyond his years, and added that he doesn’t expect his young compatriot to go off the rails under the face of media scrutiny and increased pressure and expectations.
“This is not going to be paralyzing. Not with him. On the contrary, he gets a kick out of this,” Boonen said. “I saw that little finger on his lips as he crossed the finish line. He may not know who he wanted to silence himself, but that’s how he’s set up. He has an enormous urge to prove himself, and that jersey is going to give him wings.”