'The next Eddy Merckx' is a tag often bestowed upon promising Belgian youngsters, which could easily make or break them. One of the more recent recipients was Remco Evenepoel, the 20-year-old currently making good on the label, following up a Clásica San Sebastián win with debut stage race victories in early 2020.
Evenepoel has made such a good impression that youth riders are now even earning the title 'the next Evenepoel' despite the Deceuninck - Quick-Step rider only currently being in his second year as a pro.
Cian Uijtdebroeks is one such rider, a 17-year-old currently riding for Acrog-Tormans, who has even been called an "improved version of Remco Evenepoel" by his team boss, Jef Robert.
"His sprint is his only flaw, but he has no equal in the time trial or climbing," Robert told Wielerflits, his Belgian youth team having links to the club that produced riders of the calibre of Tom Boonen, Jasper Philipsen, as well as Evenepoel himself. "He does things I've never seen before."
With promising young riders increasingly being snapped up by top tier teams at the earliest opportunity, Uijtdebroeks has received interest from three WorldTour outfits: Deceuninck - Quick-Step, Jumbo-Visma and Sunweb.
He's going nowhere for now, though, as Robert says he will stay with the team until at least the end of the 2021 season.
"Cian will stay with us for another year. If we are no longer plagued by Covid-19, we will enjoy him for another year. But it is true that afterward, like Remco, he may skip the espoirs level and immediately move on to the pros. His sleeve is being pulled, yes. Fortunately, both Cian and his parents remain level-headed."
It would appear Deceuninck - Quick-Step may be at the front of the queue, having hosted Uijtdebroeks at a training camp for four days recently.
"He experienced the atmosphere in the team. He went along, even though his team trainer was not happy with that, but it is proof that he has balls," team boss Patrick Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad about the 17-year-old's visit to Val di Fassa. "He was super happy. He was able to ride his training program, he gave a good impression."
However, a contract won't necessarily be forthcoming. "Do I intend to offer a 17-year-old a professional contract? Not at all," Lefevere added. "Not all of them are Evenepoels and we also have to avoid getting into situations like Sunweb now does with the German Brenner who is already clinched at that age."
17-year-old Marco Brenner was a bronze medalist at the 2019 Yorkshire Worlds, going on to sign a four-year contract with Sunweb, as the German squad look to revitalise their roster.
But what does Remco Evenepoel think? He was of course quick to play down comparisons to Merckx when everyone was getting excited about his potential in 2018.
"When he becomes double Belgian champion, European champion and world champion we can talk!" Evenepoel said, playfully. "Or wins the European Championships with a ten-minute lead!"
For Uijtdebroeks, we'll have to wait and see, but Evenepoel gets back to racing next week at the Vuelta a Burgos, before building up to the Giro d'Italia, his debut Grand Tour.
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