Remco Evenepoel makes his long awaited return to European racing at the Volta a Catalunya in Spain this week. After a period spent at altitude setting Strava KOMs, the World Champion is fully prepared for what will be his final stage race before his return to the Giro d’Italia as he guns for the Maglia Rosa.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday afternoon, Evenepoel appeared full of confidence and self-belief ahead of what will undoubtedly be a major test for the Belgian ahead of his grander goals in May.
“Overall it looks like a hard race, it’s a perfect simulation of the last week of the Giro, so it can be a big test for all our team,” he said. "I’m really happy we can take the start here, we’ve already checked out Monday’s finish.”
As he makes his debut in Catalunya, Evenepoel is set to face a field stacked full of quality, arguably significantly more formidable than the opposition he faced in his UAE Tour victory.
Along with his main rivals Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Evenepoel will also face Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost), Adam Yates and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), defending Giro Champion Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Thomas’ Ineos teammate Egan Bernal.
“Lots of people will be in form here,” Evenepoel said. “So I hope to take things step by step and progress. It’s the second test after my first test in the UAE Tour, which went really well. My form is better than it was a month ago, so I should be up there with the others.”
Before the Giro begins on 6 May, the Soudal Quick-Step man will make a brief foray into Belgium to race Brabantse Pijl and attempt to defend his Liège–Bastogne–Liège title, which he took so emphatically last year. Evenepoel explained that even before the Volta a Catalunya got underway, things were already better than he anticipated as he builds for the Giro.
“The biggest difference between 90% and 100% is to get that last small bit of weight down,” he said. “But power-wise everything is good, probably better than expected.”
This year’s Volta Catalunya looks set to be a wide open affair, with the final general classification hierarchy unlikely to be apparent before the latter half of the week. In the second phase of racing, the riders will face the Lo Port climb in South Catalunya which is likely to rip the race wide open. Evenepoel explained that the high volume of summit finishes may mean his game plan adapts as the race progresses.
“In a week-long race, if you have a chance to take time, you never can hesitate, you always have to go for it,” Evenepoel explained to the media.
“But there are some hard days too, so it’s always easy to give a punch and get two punches back. We might be careful with big efforts in the first day, but with three mountain top finishes, those days are big opportunities. However, I won’t be the only one thinking like that, it’ll be decided by the legs and freshness towards the end of the week.”
Even though the main focus of the week is likely to be the battle between the Belgian, Roglič and Thomas, Evenepoel reiterated that to focus solely on the Ineos and Jumbo-Visma riders could leave him exposed to attacks from elsewhere.
"It's not only Primož and myself, there are 10 or 15 guys who can go for the win here," he said.
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