Belgian Remco Evenepoel has been an a consistent winning streak all year – most recently claiming the title of junior time trial world champion – but he’s asked not to be called ‘the next Eddy Merckx.’
Evenepoel, still just 18-year-old, is finishing his last races before making the leap from junior ranks to the WorldTour team of Quick-Step Floors for 2019.
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“In Belgium, people say that I win ‘with two fingers in the nose’ but it all comes from hard work,” Enenpoel said.
“Being the new Eddy Merckx is not something I want to hear. I want to be somebody new. I’m the new me.”
Belgian Eddy Merckx dominated cycling in the 1960s and 1970s, winning every grand tour and the classics. Few have come close to his mark, and no one has reached it.
However, Leading Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad called Enenpoel’s time trial ride “one of Merckxian proportions.” On the 27.8-kilometre course in Innsbruck, he won with a lead of 1 minute 24 seconds ahead of Australian Luke Plapp. Such was the buffer, the biggest since the junior title race began in 1994, he could celebrate before reaching the finish line.
The spot light shined brightly on Evenepoel beforehand. He had amassed 20 victories this 2018 season, going into the time trail – where he averaged nearly 50kph, 2kph faster than his nearest rival on limited gear rations. The success in Innsbruck marked win number 21.
The UCI governing body wrote on Twitter, “New cycling wonder kid? Everyone’s talking about @EvenepoelRemco at the moment”
After the road race on Thursday, Evenepoel will join the WorldTour ranks and skip the normal stepping stone of racing in the Under 23s. The top teams like Sky and Quick-Step quickly took notice over the last 18 months of the Flemish rider from Schepdaal. Quick-Step secured him for 2017 in July.
Remco Evenepoel has a history in football – he was seen as a potential star until he was 16, when he switched to cycling to keep occupied. He borrowed a bike from his dad Patrick Evenepoel, who raced professional for Team Collstrop.
The young Evenepoel received a licence in 2017 and placed 67th in his first race. The five-foot-six new cyclist weighed 70kg. Five months later, he had already counted six wins, including the queen stage of the Tour of the Basque Country. The “new Merckx” name began to appear in the press.
At 62kg with a much richer palmarè, who won the Belgian national championships in May – attacking and riding the final 91km solo. At the European championships, he left his last rival in the third of 11 laps and arrived to the line with 10 minutes advantage.
“I am a winner,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “I have a winner mentality. As a child I wanted to win every game. If I lost at the ping pong then I was angry.”
Evenepoel could have ridden for a development under 23 team, like Team Hagens Berman Axeon managed by Eddy Merckx’s son Axel. While speaking with the team, Evenepoel met the cycling great in person. But due to the contract pressure, he immediately went to the WorldTour.
He still lacks some tricks of the trade and needs time to develop in the group – but Lefevere pointed out his bike handling is fine, riding clear of the peloton on a descent on day in the Giro della Lunigiana this last month. He won three of the four stages in the Italian race and the overall.
“We are not going to let him ride 80 races next year,” Lefevere said. “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.”
“I’m not going to race very much next year,” Evenepoel added. “The idea is to get me ready for the grand tours. So I’m going to train a lot at altitude. Much climbing and time trial training. Short stage races, for example, six days in the Tour of Colombia.”
The idea is to have Evenepoel racing his first grand tour by 2021. Meanwhile, Quick-Step has riders like Enric Mas and Bob Jungels for the grand tours.
“In Belgium, it is already ‘the new Merckx’ and the pressure for this time trial was great,” Lefevere said.
“If he had lost, the story would always have been: ‘He is turning professional, but he can’t even win in the juniors.’ You must have a special head to deal with that.”