‘I’m with the biggest and the best GC riders’ - Remco Evenepoel is coming of age at the Tour de France

The Belgian rider’s victory in the individual time trial signifies another step up in his career progression

Twenty-four-year-old Remco Evenepoel’s name sits at the top of the results sheet for stage seven of the 2024 Tour de France. Beneath the Soudal–Quick-Step rider are the three best general classification riders of this generation: Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard. In the stage, Evenepoel put over ten seconds into Pogačar, the man who just recently dominated the Giro d’Italia, and over 40 seconds into two-time Tour de France winner, Jonas Vingegaard. In the biggest race of them all, the Belgian rider has stated his intentions: he will be one of the critical contenders for this year’s Tour de France.

Evenepoel’s previous results make it easy to forget that this is his maiden Tour stage win. He might be a world champion and Vuelta a España winner, but a victory in Le Grande Boucle has, until now, eluded him. It was clear what it meant when he got the confirmation he had won over the radio while sitting in the hot seat: Evenepoel put his head in his hands and battled the emotion. With everything that has been said and written about him and all the expectation he carries on his shoulders, it has been a long journey to this point for the Belgian rider.

“After a week of racing, this is something special,” Evenepoel gushed after the stage. “This is my first Tour, I’m really enjoying it. I feel very relaxed. I’m pleased and honoured to win the stage and to be with the biggest and best GC riders.”

A prolific winner as a junior rider, the pressure on Evenepoel has been high ever since he graduated to the professional ranks. Belgium have long been excited to call him the ‘next Eddy Merckx’ and on multiple occasions the 24-year-old has had his scraps with the press who pose this comparison to him. There have been times where it has looked like it was all going wrong for Evenepoel, but Soudal–Quick-Step have done well to keep him grounded and on track. The rewards of that come on days like today, when Evenepoel proves he is one of the best.

Now, however, the question that will be thrown around is what else can Evenepoel do in this race? His time trial victory is proof that his form is exemplary, but two weeks still remain for him to fight for yellow. He said at the Grand Départ in Florence that Pogačar would be almost unreachable when it comes to the general classification in this year’s Tour, but has beating him today changed Evenepoel’s mind?

“We always said top five is the main goal, but of course, now being one week into the race sitting second, with a bit of a margin on third and fourth, this is something we should try to defend, we will have see how legs will be in week two and three,” the Belgian rider answered pragmatically when questioned after the stage.

“Honestly, I expected Tadej to be pretty close to me, he is one of best time trialists in Grand Tour racing and is a very difficult guy to beat. I think I can be happy. I just wanted to win, time gaps I didn’t focus on, I just wanted the stage win.”

Evenepoel’s responses to probing questions about what else we can expect from him are signs of the Belgian rider’s maturity. He remains realistic and measured despite his win on stage seven, acutely aware of the distance that still is to come in the Tour. We’ve seen him in the past make rash decisions in races which have cost him energy and time, but it seems that Evenepoel is presenting a new version of himself in France this year.

When he thought he had suffered a mechanical problem towards the end of the time trial, for example, he didn’t panic or become frustrated but continued his ride calmly. There was a time when Evenepoel would have dealt with this situation very differently, but he has, simply, grown up.

“I heard a strange sound and I thought I had a puncture,” Evenepoel explained afterwards. “There were a lot of people on the road, so I thought maybe someone dropped glass, hit barriers or whatever. It was a strange moment, it distracted me a bit and took me out of a rhythm, and maybe took me a few seconds away from the result, but it was an important stage win, that’s what counted. We did it.”

Winning a three-week stage race is as much about coping with the mental challenge as it is the physical. It seems that Evenepoel has, at long last, got these two elements to success working in harmony. This is no longer the hot-headed teenager who burst onto the professional scene with swagger, but instead a cool, calm and collected GC man who has a job to do in this year’s Tour de France. Remco Evenepoel has come of age. Who knows what will come next?

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