Philippe Gilbert said he thought Remco Evenepoel was “arrogant” and didn’t take him seriously on first meeting him, but quickly change his mind about the prodigy.
Veteran pro Gilbert, the winner of five Monuments, has since taken the young Belgian under his wing during Evenepoel’s first season at WorldTour level.
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But the 37-year-old Gilbert said he wasn’t always so sure about his compatriot and Deceuninck – Quick-Step team-mate.
In an interview with Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, Gilbert said: “In the beginning I didn’t take him too seriously. He said things before the race and I thought ‘Hey boy, what are you saying? Calm down a bit.’
“He would attack and ‘arrogant’ I thought until a few hours later, he just turned it into practice. Impressive.”
Along with his slew of outstanding results, Evenepoel’s team spirit has also impressed Gilbert, particularly in the Yorkshire 2019 World Championships where Evenepoel rode in support of the older rider who had crashed.
Gilbert, who is leaving Deceuninck – Quick-Step for Lotto-Soudal next season, said: “The youngest of the gang was class, which grabbed me. It’s proof of his potential.
“He thinks and acts tactically. What he did in Yorkshire was super professional.”
In his first year at the highest level, 19-year-old Evenepoel made a huge impression after stepping up from the junior tier.
He took his first pro win at the Belgium Tour, taking a stage and the overall, before he won Clásica San Sebastian with a hugely impressive ride, then following up with victory in European Time Trial Championships.
But perhaps his most impressive result was a second place finish in the World Championships time trial, finishing behind double winner Rohan Dennis.
Gilbert said: “He is already one of the world’s top time trailers and in the middle mountains.
“I will be amazed to see how he rides against the Colombian climbing wonders.
“I think they are the only ones who can hurt him there. Bernal in particular is phenomenal in that area.”