Evenepoel comes of age

He's the only phenom who waited to race the Tour. Will it pay off?

It’s easy to forget that this is Remco Evenepoel’s first Tour de France. He’s 24 now. An old man debutant by the standards of the era, when talent is ushered through at a breakneck pace and all the traditional notions of entering a prime, at say 27 to 30, have been thrown out the window. Patrick Lefevere, for all his many faults, has had the patience to wait until Evenepoel was ready. Friday was the reward. 

He was the favorite for this time trial. Twenty-five kilometers, one mild climb. He dominated the TT at the Dauphiné and is, according to wind tunnel testing, freakishly aerodynamic. He’s shown good form, too. Far better over the Galibier than his pre-Tour form would have suggested, and capable of closing down gaps as necessary. In hindsight, his successful chase of Pogačar and Vingegaard on the way back into Bologna on stage two was a warning shot. “I can catch you,” it said. He did the same thing off the back of the Galibier, catching all but Pogačar.

Evenepoel is now Tadej Pogačar’s closest rival. That doesn’t mean he’s the most feared, but he is the only rider with a clear avenue to taking time back, with another time trial set to cap this Tour in Nice in two weeks’ time. Even today, he refuses to get pulled into overall GC talk, but you don’t sit second after a week without daring to dream. “I have to be happy, I wanted to win today,” he said in his winner’s press conference. “The time gaps we weren’t really our focus, we just wanted to win. We need to be pleased and happy with the rest of today and we can keep building on this one.” 

How exactly he builds is going to be interesting. A stage win between now and Nice seems unlikely. His lack of focus on the time gaps suggests that even he doesn’t really know how high he can reach toward the GC. If the one mountain stage is any guide, he will struggle through the Pyrenees and those last two stages in the Alps are going to be difficult. But he can take a minute or more back on stage 21, particularly on riders not named Pogačar or Vingegaard. A podium is absolutely possible. Proving to himself he can be consistent across three weeks against Tour-caliber competition will be a huge step. 

Evenepoel is the only of his generation of young phenoms to wait multiple seasons before tackling the Tour de France. Ten or fifteen years ago, we would have said an Evenepoel Tour win was almost inevitable. Twenty-four and a stage winner in all three Grand Tours; one of only a small handful of riders to beat Pogačar head to head, the other notable name to do so being a two-time Tour winner himself. His time, we’d all believe, would certainly come. Perceptions of talent and development have changed now, but it’s folly to believe that a rider who hasn’t won the Tour in their early twenties will never do so. Evenepoel has much to prove but is poised, if the next two weeks go well, to become one of a small group capable of competing with the current duopoly. 

He has many to look forward to. “It’s an honor to be here, to take a stage, and be up there with the biggest and best GC riders of the latest editions,” he said. “For sure I will be back.”

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