'If you start a Grand Tour you can always win it,' says Remco Evenepoel as he sets sights on Vuelta a España

Belgium cyclist says he would give up five championship podiums won in 2021 for one winner's jersey

Remco Evenepoel
(Image credit: Getty)

The first thing Remco Evenepoel wants for 2022 is to have a normal season.

2020 saw him crash hard at Il Lombardia, the cycling world holding their breath until he emerged back up the verge he’d disappeared down. 2021 saw him start late following rehabilitation and figuring out how his body had recovered from serious injury.

It seems weird to say, seeing as Evenepoel will only turn 22 at the end of this month, but there seems to be a sense of loss already on those two disrupted seasons. Such is his enormous talent you’d maybe have half-expected a Monument, a Grand Tour stage, a stint in a Grand Tour leader’s jersey. After all, he can do it all. 

“I think the biggest goals this year will be working towards the Ardennes Classics and then the Vuelta,” the Belgian confirms of his plans for this new year. “I hope to take as much experience as possible to the Vuelta from one-week races in the mountains. I’m really looking forward to riding my first Spanish Grand Tour.”

clasica san sebastian Evenepoel

Evenepoel digs deep at the 2019 Clasica San Sebastian

(Image credit: Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Evenepoel says he doesn’t know why he performs well in Spain, but you can tell victories at the Clasica San Sebastian and Vuelta a Burgos already have him hungry for the Spanish Grand Tour later this year.

“The [Vuelta] course is always special, a certain climb or stage that is surprising,” he says, and the start in Utrecht isn’t too far away from his home.

“I’d like to make the step toward the real GC riders,” Evenepoel continues. “Perform against them and compete with them for victories, and then trying to win some time trials again. If I can leave the season with some very nice victories and hopefully a good Vuelta I can be really happy.”

When asked by the attendant Spanish journalists, who never miss an opportunity to crowbar in a question to any prominent rider what they think of their Spanish colleagues, Evenepoel says of the nation’s rider’s Grand Tour hopes: “If you start a Grand Tour you can always win it.”

This, you’d assume, is a belief Evenepoel also applies to himself, and will have in the back of his mind when he does start the Vuelta later in the year. But maybe this year, a day in the red jersey would be enough.

“The second week of the Giro [2021] wasn’t my best week but from the Giro we only went out with good feelings because the first 10 days I was fighting for the pink jersey every day almost.

“Maybe that’s the only sad thing about the season, that I didn’t take the pink jersey for at least one day, it would be a dream to come back and wear the pink jersey for one day. At the end of the year with eight victories, not on the highest level, but I think I can still be happy.”

Evenepoel says he doesn’t really have any regrets, although does think he peaked too early for the Olympics, and also rues the fact he had five podium spots in six world/European/national championships without a gold medal.

“I would give [them] up for one jersey,” he admits. “That’s life, when you come close you want to work harder to get one step up on the podium. That’s also a goal for this season, to get the top spot on the podium of a championship.”

Of course, Belgian expectations of their riders will rarely be sated. Remco Evenepoel could win a Tour de France that had a Grand Départ on the moon and upon re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere a gaggle of Flemish journalists would be queueing up to ask plainly: “So, what’s next?”

“You can have idols but you don’t have to compare yourself to your idols."

Remco Evenepoel

Evenepoel seems more than acclimatised to the constant commotion that follows him, however, more polite than most would be with all the drama kicked up in his orbit. One Italian journalist flatters him with the anecdote that Italian continental teams are dogged in their search for the ‘Italian Remco’, but the 21-year-old bats the question away with good grace.

“I don’t think it’s good to compare, you just have to get to know yourself and then try to get everything out of your body, your capacity,” he offers. “You can have idols but you don’t have to compare yourself to your idols. If you have an idol that means the person was really special in what they were doing.

“I really like it that lots of kids see me as an idol, I have idols. Contador, Eddy Merckx, other good racers, but I don’t want to compare myself to them because they are special for what they did. Comparing is not a good thing but you can have idols, that’s the thing I want to give to the kids.”

So what, if anything, would Remco Evenepoel change about his life right now?

“At this moment I don’t want to change anything, I’m actually quite happy.

“I’m healthy, I can ride my bike, my family’s doing great, I’m in a super good team, the atmosphere is super nice, the weather is good. It’s not good every day…maybe when it’s a rainy day I would change the weather. But no I think everything is fine, maybe give Belgium better weather…but on the other hand everything is fine so I don’t need to change anything in my life right now.”

Why change what is already a remarkable story? And with much more to come.

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