If Remco Evenepoel completes a stage race, he wins it.
At least that is how it works if his staggering form of the last two seasons is a correct indication of how a race will unfold.
In the last six stage races that the Belgian superstar has started and finished, he has topped the general classification in them all, picking up eight stage wins en-route.
Yet for a man blessed with such extraordinary talent and self-belief, there is already an asterisk hovering over his results: he has yet to do it in a Grand Tour or a truly big stage race, such as the Critérium du Dauphiné.
He made his three-week race debut at last spring’s Giro d’Italia, sitting second on GC for a period of time until stage 11, before eventually withdrawing before stage 18. This season he will target the Vuelta a España as he seeks to prove that he can transform one-week dominance into three-week superiority.
The season that just passed proved one of maturation for Evenepoel, who turns 22 on January 25. His QuickStep-AlphaVinyl sports director Tom Steels told Cycling Weekly: “I think last year for Remco, and for everybody else too I think, was a good year in the sense of learning that not everything comes easy.
“He is the biggest of talents, but they all have to be prepared that they cannot take five steps forward in a row forever.”
Despite his tender years and only having completed three professional seasons, Evenepoel has grown into a natural leader, a fierce winner who demands nothing less than the best from himself and others around him.
He has also caused controversy with other riders, notably his compatriot Wout van Aert who publicly voiced his disappointment after Evenepoel questioned Belgium’s tactics at the World Championships in September.
Steels acknowledged his young rider’s temperament but views it as a positive. “That winning mentality I see as an advantage,” he continued.
“We all know the guys who really cannot stand losing after a race are quite outspoken, but I must say I always see it as a quality.
“Of course, you have to manage it after a race as frustration itself comes from losing, but it also means you gave everything to win the race. That’s the balance you have to find, although it’s not easy.
“With Remco, if he gets frustrated with another rider it can be headline news. You have to manage that so it’s not a real problem.
“On the bus, after a race, sometimes you’re wondering how the windows are still in because the tension can get so high.”
Evenepoel will begin his season at the Volta a Valenciana, having enjoyed a full block of uninterrupted winter training, something he was deprived of last year thanks to a slower than expected recovery from a crash he sustained at Il Lombardia that resulted in a fractured pelvis.
“At the end of the year, we saw once again the Remco we wanted to see,” Steels added. “The way he rode the Europeans and the Worlds, but we also saw that at the end of the season his basic condition was not at the best. It was a difficult year for him.
“He has trained this winter without problems and is by far in a better place than last year, even two years ago.”
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