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WOLLONGONG, Australia (VN) — To paraphrase the great darts commentator Sid Waddell: When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer, Remco Evenepoel is only 22.
After already winning his first monument and grand tour, Evenepoel capped off a season that most riders would dream of with perhaps the biggest one-day victory of his career at the UCI Road World Championships.
At the beginning of the day, it was unclear how good the Belgian would be following such a busy period of racing, but there were no doubts about his level as he attacked with just under 35km to go and then solo with 25km to go.
“I think just saying this again is really incredible. The things that I have achieved this year, my season cannot be better, to win a monument, the rainbow jersey, and a grand tour. I think it will be very difficult to do that again. I don’t think you can do better than the year I am having,” Evenepoel said.
“I think every rider that starts his career or when you start to ride a bike you dream about a few things. When I started to ride a bike or I became professional, I had two or three really big goals and they were to win Liège, a grand tour, and the world championships, and to do everything like that in one year is really incredible. I cannot put enough words together about how proud I am of the things I did this year. Just again, it’s not possible alone. I didn’t win alone in Liège, I didn’t win the Vuelta alone and I also didn’t win here alone.”
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Evenepoel’s victory in Wollongong puts him in a very select club of riders that have converted junior world titles into an elite title. Having already claimed the junior TT title a few days before, the Belgian scored a dominant solo win in the road race in Innsbruck in 2018.
He was already set to head straight to the WorldTour by that stage, but the result confirmed that he was a big talent. With his win this Sunday he follows in the footsteps of Greg LeMond, who won his first elite title aged 22.
With LeMond’s palmarès for reference, talk already turned to the Tour de France and Evenepoel’s position as a potential future winner. It would be easy for Evenepoel to get buried under the weight of expectation, but he is learning to deal with it.
“I think this year I learned to deal with this kind of pressure and that’s the reason I could perform on a very high level for the last three months. So, I think the problem of the pressure is gone but, of course, this jersey will not help it,” he said.
“I have a strong team around me, I have a super strong family around me to help me to deal with the pressure. I think I’m just blessed with all of these people to help me to deal with this pressure and to keep me strong in the head and in the body. You can never win or start the race alone and you cannot stand alone in life and those two things I really learned since my rehab from the crash [at Il Lombardia in 2020]. It made me how I am now.”
Evenepoel has had little time to dwell on his successes in recent weeks with the world championships coming hot on the tail of the Vuelta a España, where he took a commanding win in the overall classifications.
His celebrations were cut very short as he had to hotfoot it to Australia a day after wrapping up the red jersey in Madrid. Now that his season is over, his thoughts have turned to how he will enjoy his recent wins.
“We decided this already before the Vuelta that I was going to travel the day after immediately. As I already mentioned it was really a very difficult period to manage it with the jetlag and the long travel but this week I could feel that my body was fresh again and my body was turning better,” he said.
“This week it was better because I had some days of rest after the time trial, I had a good long training with the guys, and I was back in the group. I felt normal again. I think that’s the main reason I was 100 percent again. I think, if I go back home you will find me at every party possible because I didn’t have the time to enjoy the Vuelta victory enough. With this extra on top, I think the next month is going to be about party.”
After a disaster of a race in Flanders last year, Belgium went into the race with two main leaders — Evenepoel and Wout van Aert. It paid off as Evenepoel was able to make the front group as the bunch split up while Van Aert was back in the peloton behind.
“The race we did today was the plan, it would have been better if Wout was with me in the front group but I think those are race situations and you cannot handle this,” Evenepoel said. “I think the best decision we made was to start with two leaders and with Quentin Hermans underneath because he was super strong. I think what we showed today is the race we wanted to ride and it turned out with a victory. We just wanted to repeat this and look at the courses, everything depends on the course.”
After going up the road with a big group of riders, Evenepoel bided his time, keeping a cool head until the moment was right. He eventually jumped clear with as the leaders approached the finish line to start the penultimate lap.
The pair rode together for about 10 kilometers before Evenepoel struck out on his own. From the outside, Evenepoel’s win looked fairly certain from early on, but he didn’t allow him to believe it until the finish line was almost in sight.
“In the last kilometer because you know in the world championships, most unexpected situations can happen every lap, every kilometer. I knew when I was on the road with [Alexey] Lutsenko that I had a good chance to go for the win, but you need to keep pushing,” Evenepoel said.
“The last lap was super hard, especially after doing half a lap alone. Then, over the top of the climb I was getting more confident but then with about five kilometers to go, the car came to me and said I had about 1:30 on Lutsenko so from thereon I started to believe it a bit more but then in the last kilometer when it was a bit downhill, I really felt it.”