Remco Evenepoel is big news in Belgium right now. He already was a star in the making, but after he became the first Grand Tour winner from the country in 44 years, he went and became their first world champion in ten years too. The young man is now in the stratosphere.
It is difficult to overstate just how big a name he is in Belgium right now. The man from the Flemish Brabant is on all the newspaper front pages, back pages, and fills most of the column inches in between.
He was already famous, the face of Pizza Hut in Belgium (opens in new tab), but in becoming the first man from the country to win a Grand Tour since 1978, he has been elevated to the top.
Forget Denmark going mad for Jonas Vingegaard after the Tour de France, Belgium has now gone Remco-mad. It might take a while for the 22-year-old to recover from this.
There were no special fighter jets, unlike the Dane, but there was a giant crowd in the middle of Brussels on Saturday, and endless partying.
Setting out at 8.30 in his brand new rainbow bands kit, the Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl rider dashed off a brisk 51.75km in just over an hour-and-a-half, before changing into his Sunday best and heading to the day's first official appointment in Dilbeek, just outside Brussels.
After being awarded honorary citizenship of the municipality — which is where he grew up — in the presence of various dignitaries, Evenepoel was given a rainbow-liveried Specialized S-Works and was also presented with a jersey from Anderlecht football club, which he used to play for as a youngster, signed by the first team.
That theme continued at the Grote Markt in Brussels, where he was greeted by a huge crowd, many of whom had cycled the 3.6 miles from Dilbeek to the centre of the capital.
(Evenepoel took the car, reportedly saying, "I've done enough cycling". Can't argue with that.)
With his father Patrick and fiancee Oumi in tow, among others, the 22-year-old world champion looked in his element as he took to the balcony of the Brussels Town Hall, dressed in his rainbow bands, complete with gold medal. He waved, took selfies, and even sang along to the thumping Europop, driving the huge crowd wild.
Evenepoel "played the crowd like an accomplished entertainer," reported Het Nieuwsblad. "What can't that boy do?"
Unlike Vingegaard, Evenepoel looks like he revels in the attention and adulation, and this could drive him onto bigger things. If cycling is a religion in Belgium, Remco might be the new pope.
Despite his young years Evenepoel took it all in his stride, giving the impression that this is exactly where he was hoping, and wishing to be all along.
Belgian cycling journalist Jan Pieter De Vlieger of Het Neiuwsblad agrees.
"He doesn't mind being the centre of attention," De Vlieger says. "All his life he's been working towards being a big shot in sports, whether it's in football or in cycling. So for him, it's just a confirmation that he's at the place that he always was aiming for."
And just as pictures from the Grand Place suggest, Evenepoel is far from feeling the pressure of the occasion reckons De Vlieger, who says. "I think it's more of a relief."
Belgians often baulked at Evenepoel's brash personality, says De Morgen journalist Hans Vandeweghe, who said he was viewed as "a footballer on two wheels". But the young rider has changed in the past year, he says. "He has become mature. He's more at ease with himself, he knows what he can do. He's an immense talent — we haven't seen the end of it."
He may not have seen the end of media storms either, says Vandeweghe, who predicts that Quick Step at the Evenepoel's behest, will begin to change its time-honoured Classics-focus in favour of winning the Tour de France with its young star.
"It's going to be Remco again, right in the middle of the turmoil," says Vandeweghe.
The Belgian cyclist will be back in action sooner than Vingegaard was too, taking to the startline of Binche-Chimay-Binche on Tuesday, a first home race for him. Expect crowds.
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