Remco Evenepoel leads a select group of chasers to the line on stage 4 of the 2024 Tour de France. He's out of the saddle ahead of Juan Ayuso and Primož Roglič as they come to the line.

Best of the rest: ‘We can be satisfied’ says Evenepoel

The Belgian hopeful passes a big-mountain test as he confronts new challenges in his first Tour de France.

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 02.07.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos & Gruber Images
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Remco Evenepoel makes a somewhat unlikely case of Tour de France debutante. The sixth-year pro and leader of Soudal-Quick Step already has 55 career wins, among them a Grand Tour and two editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But still just 24 years old, the Belgian is rapidly ticking off some career firsts in his maiden Tour. Tuesday: first major mountain stage. And according to him and his team, he passed the test with flying colors.

“It was a good day for us,” he told Sporza after finishing a strong second place to stage winner and new overall leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). In a nod to the Slovenian’s form, Evenepoel added, “It is always positive to finish second behind the best rider in the world. I have nothing to complain about our strategy or the course of the race.”

For team director Tom Steels, Evenepoel’s performance so far has been “more than okay,” adding, “He survived the first two stages in the Tour, which are always hectic, his first bunch sprint, and now his first mountain stage, he survived. So step by step, he’s coming into the Tour in a good position.”

One key, said Steels, was the offseason addition of Mikel Landa. The Spaniard is a few years removed from his peak, but he showed today he still has the climbing chops to stay among the best in the world. And Soudal needed that, badly.

Historically a Classics and stage-hunting team, Soudal has slowly adapted itself to targeting stage races with its new leader, but at times, including the 2022 Vuelta a España, Evenepoel has looked isolated. Particularly against deep teams like Pogačar’s UAE Team Emirates squad or the Visma-Lease a Bike team of two-time defending Tour champ Jonas Vingegaard, that’s a vulnerability.

Remco Evenepoel descends the Col du Galibier. He's framed alone, against the backdrop of a rugged, sheer mountain face dotted with snowfields.
“I have to be honest: I almost fell,” said Evenepoel of the snowmelt-slicked corners on the descent off the Col du Galibier.

But high on the Col du Galibier as Pogačar’s teammates pressed the pace and whittled the lead group to just eight riders, Landa hung tough. “We were the only [other] team with still two guys up there,” Steels noted. “And before the climb there was still Ilan [Van Wilder], Jan [Hirt], and [Louis] Vervaeke. So I don’t think if you compare to the other teams that we are far off.”

Landa’s value goes past staying near his leader in crucial moments in the race. “Not only on the bike, but off the bike, he stays calm. He says the right things,” said Steels. “Fifteen minutes after the race he’s already ready to go for the next days. It’s really important to have that experience also on board.”

The question, of course, is whether all that will be enough to challenge Pogačar. Both Evenepoel and Steels were cautious in their assessments. “Pogačar may be out of competition,” warned Steels. “Everybody was on the limit. Everybody goes the maximum that he can do, and then just, yeah, you get in the position where you are.”

Altitude may have played a role. “Once above 2,000 meters you feel that it is more difficult to respond to a faster pace,” said Evenepoel to Sporza. “It was a very strong attack from Tadej. I tried to go along, but that was a bit above my level.” The Tour won’t return to such heights until briefly on stage 13 in the Pyrenees and then stage 19’s extended trip to altitude.

But the descent caused him fits too: “I went down as quickly as possible,” he said. “However, there were a few wet bends on the descent. I slipped a few times. I have to be honest: I almost fell.”

But even after he was briefly distanced in the chase, Evenepoel managed to get back in contact and lead out the sprint for second, holding off Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) and the always-aggressive Primož Roglič (Bora-Hansgrohe) for important bonus seconds, and even slightly dropping Vingegaard and Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers). Hirt called the performance “pretty important for the morale of the team,” and Evenepoel seemed similarly encouraged by how he survived the high-mountain crucible. “I felt good overall,” he said. “We can be satisfied.”

He’s in second overall, in the white jersey of best young rider. Pogačar, right now, looks unbeatable, so Evenepoel may have to remain satisfied. But not complacent. “The whole Tour will be a big fight,” said Steels. Day by day, Soudal feels more ready for the battle.

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