Vuelta 2022 – Remco Evenepoel, symbol of a Belgium back at the top of world cycling

Vuelta 2022 - Remco Evenepoel, symbol of a Belgium back at the top of world cycling

It’s (almost) done. Forty-four years after Johan De Muynck on the Tour of Italy, Belgium has a new Grand Tour winner in the person of Remco Evenepoel. And as cycling loves these kinds of parallels, the success of the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider symbolizes more than anything, more than anyone, the return to grace of Belgium, once again becoming the greatest nation in cycling. When De Muynck won the Giro in 1978, Belgium was just emerging from the Merckx years, undoubtedly the most prosperous years in its history.

A time when the Belgians reigned supreme over the Monuments (45 between 1966 and 1978, including 3 Grand Slams in 1969, 1972 and 1976) but also multiplied the victories on the Grand Tours, on stages (13 for Maertens on the Vuelta 1977 ), as in the general classification (15, including 11 for Merckx). An outrageous domination that suddenly ended in 1978. So, obviously, the Belgians continued to shine and win big races, like Paris-Roubaix but especially the Tour of Flanders (20 successes since 1978).

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Some have even won the green jersey (Planckaert in 1988, Boonen in 2007), others have been world champions (Boonen in 2005, Gilbert in 2012) but the internationalization of cycling has gradually relegated Belgium to the “second plan”, limiting it to a nation “of cobblestones”. The best sprinter was sometimes Italian (Cipollini, Petacchi), German (Zabel, Kittel), Uzbek (Abdoujaparov), British (Cavendish), but never Belgian, despite Tom Boonen. The best Grand Tours riders have been French (Hinault, Fignon), Italians (Nibali), Spaniards (Indurain, Contador), British (Froome), or Slovenians (Roglic and Pogacar) but not Belgian.

Tom Boonen, the only great Belgian sprinter of the 2000s, wins in Gent Wevelgem 2012

Credit: AFP

Milan-Sanremo had become a Spanish (Freire x3) and German (Zabel x4) land, but only one Belgian tamed it in 1981 and 2020. Liège-Bastogne-Liège became the preserve of Valverde, single-handedly winner of the as many editions (4) as the whole of Belgium over the twenty years preceding the success of Evenepoel. Without forgetting the Tour of Lombardy where only Gilbert has won (2009, 2010) for 42 years. But this era of scarcity is over. Belgium is back at the top of the world hierarchy, at the end of a magical year for the “flat country”.

Belgium has the best in (almost) every area

The Belgians have notably won the Vuelta general, the green jersey and six stages in the Tour de France, victory over Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Clasica San Sebastian, Flèche Wallonne, the Bretagne Classic, the Het Nieuwsblad, the E3 Saxo-Bank Classic. In 2022, Belgium have won 7 events on the World Tour calendar, more than any other nation, including Slovenia (6) of ogres Pogacar and Roglic.

No one has won more than her at the highest level, with 24 successes on the clock, 9 more than her runner-up, Slovenia. Mountain, chrono, sprint, classics for puncheurs as for flandriens… Belgium has quite simply won on all terrains this season, a consequence of the multiplication of stars, of which the Belgians can boast in all areas.

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The best sprinter in the world in 2022? Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Belgian. The best Flandrian on the cycling planet? Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Belgian. The best puncher? In 2022 his name is Dylan Teuns (Israel-Premier Tech), another Belgian. The best roller in the world? The answer may be different at the Worlds in a week, but Evenepoel like Van Aert can claim this title. In the end, it is only in the mountains where Belgium cannot still challenge the title, that Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) disputes Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates).

Domination ready to last, as under Merckx?

But the success of Evenepoel, beyond the confirmation of a prodigious and all-terrain talent, is above all a thunderclap for Belgium, which had completely disappeared from the fight for victory in the grand tour for thirty years. years, despite the hopes of Kevin Seeldrayers (10th in the Giro at 23) and especially Jurgen Van den Broeck (3rd in the Tour in 2010 and 4th in 2012). Some will be able to attest that it is “only” the Vuelta… Yes but.

Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) in the wheel of Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) during the 20th stage of the Vuelta 2022

Credit: Getty Images

France is still waiting for Laurent Jalabert’s successor there since 1995 and six of the last ten winners of the event have several major laps to their name. At 22, Remco Evenepoel is not there yet, Belgium either, but both have returned to the top of world cycling. And none seem to be leaving for a long time. After all, the last time Belgium dominated cycling was for a whole decade.

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