The Belgian prodigy won his first career Grand Tour after a controlled Tour of Spain since the first week.
The coronation of Remco Evenepoel. A great phenomenon in international cycling whose appearances have been scrutinized since 2020, the Belgian has won the 2022 edition of the Tour of Spain. Long-awaited on the starting line, the 22-year-old rider had expressed his desire to play in the general classification, in particular against Primoz Roglic, three-time defending champion in the end. forced to retire on Tuesday following a fall. It was consecrated this Sunday in Madrid, where Juan Sebastian Molano (UAE Emirates) won the 21st and final stage in the sprint, one breath ahead of the green jersey Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).
Leader’s red jersey on the back for 16 days, Evenepoel managed this big pressure with authority and brilliance, even offering himself a second victory (after the one against the clock in the second week) this Thursday during the 18th stage, where he shattered the hopes of his rival Enric Mas (Movistar) one last time. The 27-year-old Spaniard therefore finished second in the event, just ahead of another precocious phenomenon, his compatriot Juan Ayuso (UAE Emirates, 19 years old).
Saturday, after a last mountain stage won by the Richard Carapaz polka dot jersey (Ineos Grenadiers), the Belgian finally released the pressure, overwhelmed by emotion when realizing the extent of his feat. Living up to the expectations of an entire country, he who this Sunday became the first Belgian to win a Grand Tour since Johan De Muynck, the last rider to make the Brabançonne reason at the finish of a Grand Tour, during the Giro 1978. He also did (much) better than his father, who had traveled the roads of the Tour of Spain before him: “My father always told me that he finished last (113th out of 114 during the 1993 edition, editor’s note). I joked and told him that it would be funny if I finished first (…) I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can.»
Already winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April then from the Clasica San Sebastian (for the second time)Evenepoel welcomed on Saturday a “exceptional year, the best of (his) life“, he whose beginning of career had been stopped by net by a terrible accident during the Tour of Lombardy in August 2020.
From apprentice footballer to Grand Tour winner
The prodigy from Schepdaal thus offers his Quick-Step-Alpha Vinyl formation, rather accustomed to Classics and stage victories, a first victory in a Grand Tour. “Everyone announced that Remco would be the next Belgian winner of a Grand Tour. He proved it. We are proud of himi”, rejoiced his manager Patrick Lefévère.
A triumph that did not fail to greet his partner Julian Alaphilippe, aligned at his side at the start of this Vuelta, left on the evening of the 11th stage after another fall. “Congratulations on this victory. The work pays, the sacrifices too. It’s not the first time and not the last that you’re going to surprise us“, greeted the double-world champion on Twitter.
The Frenchman had a ringside seat to witness the advent of the prodigy, whose precocity led to the nickname “little cannibal”, echoing his illustrious predecessor Eddy Merckx. A nickname and a start to a career still unsuspected a little over six years ago, when Evenepoel, an athletic midfielder, was captain of the Anderlecht U16s also called up to the Belgian national team. But the future champion changed gear to turn to national sport: “I quit football, I want to ride a bike.»
Duel with Van Aert at the Worlds?
Well he took it, then. Raised to the rank of star by an entire country, Evenepoel shares the bill with Wout Van Aert, another Belgian rider with a resounding success. But there will only be room for one of the two riders from Wollogong (Australia) in two weeks (September 25), where the two men will dream of stealing the iridescent world champion jersey from Julian Alaphilippe.