By Gregor Brown
Belgian Remco Evenepoel has stomped his competition in the junior World Championships, and is now eyeing the Grand Tours in the professional ranks.
The 18-year-old – winner of the junior time trial and the road race title in Innsbruck – joins WorldTour team Quick-Step Floors next season.
"My main dream are the three Grand Tours," Evenepoel said when pressed on his long-term goals.
"But I know that's a hard way and a long way, but yeah, I'm still young and I have a long way to go.
"We are going to work hard and hopefully, I can win one of the three Grand Tours."
Since he began riding only 18 months ago, Evenepoel has rocketed away.
He counts an amazing 22 wins this 2018 season.
This year, he won the overall in every one of the four stage races he competed in, including the Course de la Paix Juniors and Trophée Centre Morbihan.
"Next year, I'll be a pro. I still got to learn a lot, I'm only biking for one and a half years. I still got to learn a lot," Evenepoel said.
"We will see what the future gives but Quick-Step will be a very good step for me. I hope I can grow with the team. I have confidence in them, they in me so it'll be a nice future."
Like in so many races this season, Evenepoel blasted away solo from his rivals in the junior road race.
After being involved in a crash and chasing back, he attacked to bridge to the leaders and dropped his last rival with 20 kilometres to race.
“I’m very happy. I crashed at a bad moment before the Gnadenwald climb. I was almost two minutes behind," he continued.
"We went to plan B after I crashed. A hard pace here on the local roads and then go alone, and putting a tempo, hard descent. Go alone, and yeah, I did it."
He lifted up his bike walking over the finish line with over a minute's advantage.
"I already knew what I would do when I’d win. I wanted to finish the season the same way I started at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, with lifting my bike, so I did it. I came here to win two titles. What a season!”
Evenepoel will skip the under-23 ranks, missing a chance to race the category's major stage races, the Baby Giro, the Valle d'Aosta or the Tour de l'Avenir.
Quick-Step plans to ease him into the professional ranks.
"We are not going to let him ride 80 races next year," Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad.
"And we do not want to burn him in Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico.
"Maybe we can race him in Argentina, Colombia, Algarve, a few days in Mallorca, that's all possible."
Evenepoel is already thinking grand, hoping to ride in the big three-week tours by 2021.
He prefers starting in the Vuelta, the one Grand Tour his father Patrick Evenepoel raced as a professional.
He will switch off the junior gears for 2019, but his plan is to keep high cadence.
"I intend to keep using small gears," Evenepoel said.
"It has been proven in the last Vuelta a España that on the steep sections of the climbs it was more efficient to kick in small gears instead of big ones."
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