The 2020 racing season. Remember that? Those long-gone heady days of guys and girls actually riding their bikes on the road in the sunshine before the world came crashing down? The Tour Down Under is done and dusted. The desert races have been and gone. And now the Volta ao Algarve is on the menu.
And what a stacked field it has attracted, probably the finest in the Portuguese race’s 46 editions. On the line in Portimão are double former winners Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski, Vincenzo Nibali, Rohan Dennis, Philippe Gilbert, Bauke Mollema, Greg Van Avermaet, Mathieu van der Poel, Miguel Ángel López…
Five days later in Lagoa, following a 20km time-trial, only one of these superstars of cycling would be on the podium, the Colombian López in third. Top of the tree was a man who had only just turned 20, fresh from winning a stage and the overall in San Juan three weeks earlier. That final day’s TT in Portugal included taking the scalp of Rohan Dennis, the finest male rider on the planet against the clock. It could be argued this is early season.
Nobody is going all out and in top form. But that includes the stage and race winner, Remco Evenepoel, building towards a Giro d’Italia that did not happen in May.
Google the word ‘Remco’ and your search engine will return a company in Bognor Regis manufacturing electric motors and fans. And a cyclist from Belgium. Even his name stands out.
Evenepoel’s father, Patrick, was himself a pro rider in the ’90s; his son initially plumped for football, playing for the youth teams of Anderlecht and PSV Eindhoven. Switching to cycling in 2017, it took just over a year for this precocious talent to reach the top, with wins in both the junior road race and time-trial at the 2018 World Championships. Remarkably, Evenepoel’s road race victories were usually solo moves, most notably at the European Championships. His winning margin? A mind-blowing 9’44”.
All well and good. But how would he fare in the senior ranks? Deceuninck-Quick Step threw him straight in the deep end in 2019, forgoing the under-23 category, and it’s safe to say he performed like Ian Thorpe in an Olympic pool. The Clásica San Sebastián in August was his first WorldTour race. And, surprise surprise, his first WorldTour win.Evenepoel is the latest in a long line of Belgians given ‘the next Eddy Merckx’ treatment by a country starved of a real Grand Tour contender for decades.
But in this instance, so long as the weight of a nation’s expectations does not bear too heavily on his slight shoulders, there is no reason for Evenepoel not to sweep the board in the coming years. He really is that talented. Believe the hype.
This article is a sixth of one that originally appeared in Rouleur 20.4, on sale now