Vuelta 2022 – From arrogant rider to ultra-complete racer: the crazy progression of Remco Evenepoel

Vuelta 2022 - From arrogant rider to ultra-complete racer: the crazy progression of Remco Evenepoel

Remco Evenepoel is a phenomenon. He was already one when he arrived as a professional, after having skipped the stint with the Espoirs following his stratospheric 2018 season with the Juniors (24 victories including the double chrono-line race in the championships of Belgium, Europe and the world). What impresses then is the engine of the young Belgian, capable of single-handed numbers and finishing 2nd in the world time trial championships in his first season. That’s the only thing that hasn’t changed. Because, since then, the rider of the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl has continued to progress in the areas where there were questions about his abilities.

Pitfall n°1: “Evenepoel is in pain as soon as there are large percentages”

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This is one of the pitfalls that we have heard the most about Remco Evenepoel. It doesn’t matter that he won the Clasica San Sebastian in his first season, in 2019, the scenario (he was released on the flat) had meant that no one saw it as a reference. And 2022 did not help to change this impression for a long time with failures towards the Antenas del Maigmó (3 km at 10%) on the Tour of the Valencian Community, in Carpegna (6 km at 9.9%) on Tirreno -Adriatico or on the slopes of Krabelin (4 km at 10.5%) on the Tour of the Basque Country. But the Belgian put the dots on the “i” in Spain in August.

Evenepoel made the show, Meintjes did the essentials: the summary of the 9th stage

First by winning the Clasica San Sebastian for a second time, this time by getting all the favorites off their wheel in the Erlaitz (4 km at 10%) before winning with a 2-minute lead. But above all by being the best of the favorites on the most “Vueltaesque” stage of the Tour of Spain. At Praeres, on a 3.8 km climb at 13%, the Belgian not only outdistances his opponents: he destroys them! His closest competitor at the finish, Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) finished at 34”, Mas (Movistar) at 44”, Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) – yet one of the specialists in the genre – was pushed back to 52”. If some still had doubts, they are swept away.

Pitfall n°2: “Evenepoel has no explosiveness”

When he arrived among the professionals, the observation was striking: if the Belgian did not arrive alone, he could not win and he was aware of it. “I remember in my first year as a professional, I was always last in these kinds of sprints“, he said in May on the Tour of Norway after an arrival in a small committee. But, there again, Remco Evenepoel has evolved since his return from injury. The Belgian is not – and will never be – a “sprinter” like Valverde but he has acquired an impressive explosiveness.

Launched 150m from the line, Evenepoel wins for the 3rd time in Norway

We first saw him on Liège-Bastogne-Liège where his giclette impressed on his attack that no one was able to follow. However, where Evenepoel really amazed his world is that he began to win in the sprint. If getting ahead of Gesink and Mas at the Alto del Piornal was nothing surprising, we were much more surprised to see him settle a small group at the Tour of Norway, ahead of a rider like Tobias Johannessen (Uno-X) on a flat sprint. “I’m quite surprised because I think it’s only my first victory in a sprinthe said then. But lately, I’ve been working on this aspect more and more, and it’s paying off now.“. Erasing a new weak point.

Pitfall n°3: “Evenepoel is not a climber”

It is undoubtedly the most unfair pitfall that has pursued the Belgian prodigy. He’s not a pure climber, that’s for sure, and he never will be. It is far too complete for that. But his failures in the high mountains, at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo on the Adriatica Ionica Race 2019, at the Passo Giau on the Giro 2021 or even at Moosalp on the Tour de Suisse last June raised questions about his ability to climb at high altitude, on long passes. So he worked it. “I trained for this all summer, July and Augusthe assured during the first day of rest of the Vuelta. In Livigno, I slept at 2500, 3000 m altitude and I trained at the top. I prepared with a lot of altitude, we know that it works well for meObviously, they know.

Mas and Roglic attacked but Evenepoel resisted: the summary of the 15th stage

The Belgian’s preparation and work paid off as Evenepoel withstood the shock perfectly during the high mountain weekend of the Vuelta. He certainly conceded time, partly linked to his fall two days earlier, but the prodigy of the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl perfectly limited the breakage, especially in the Sierra Nevada (23km of ascent and arrival at 2507 m), conceding only 36” to Mas where he had lost 56” to Fuglsang and Grosschartner but above all 13” to Küng in Switzerland in June and, further back, 1’31” to Padun-D. Quintana-B. Hermans-Caicedo in 2019. The progression is sensitive, linear and a margin still seems to exist.

Pitfall n°4: “Evenepoel is too nervous in the race”

How many times have we seen the Belgian get angry quickly, after a stint skipped by an opponent? We remember his gesture of frustration at the European Championship last year, beaten by Colbrelli after he skipped the vast majority of relays. Or his nervousness on the white paths stage during the Tour of Italy. Without forgetting his arrogance at times, like when he dusts off his shoulder after his success at Pico Blanco in the 2020 Tour de Burgos, as if to say “too easy”. Again, he has changed. “He became more adult, more mature“, said the manager of the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Patrick Lefevere after Tirreno-Adriatico.

Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) rides with Enric Mas (Movistar) in the wheel, on the Vuelta 2022

Credit: Getty Images

Faced with the pressure of the red jersey, of being the leader on a Grand Tour that the Belgians have dreamed of winning for 44 years, he showed unfailing calm. He never got angry, even when the circumstances could push him there (Mas who refuses to ride with him on the 6th, fall on the 12th stage, failure on the 14th). He was supposed to follow Mas in the last week? He got stuck in the Spaniard’s wheel and never gave in to following other riders. As if he had always known this situation. By dint of working on all his weak points, Remco Evenepoel almost ends up having none left. A real prodigy. Including in work.

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