We’re not even in March yet, and Remco Evenepoel has already laid down a marker for the 2023 season
In Argentina, a race he’d won back in 2020, a misstep in the Vuelta a San Juan on the Alto de Colorado all but burned out his own GC chances.
In the UAE Tour, on the other hand, where the stakes were significantly higher, his previous performance in 2020 (an abandon on stage 4) was significantly less successful, and the GC field as deep if not deeper than in Argentina, the Soudal-QuickStep racer fared far better than he said he had thought possible at this early point in the year.
It’s worth remembering too, that Evenepoel came into UAE saying he’d settle for a stage win and a podium finish. But having blown UAE apart with his Soudal-QuickStep teammates on stage 1, won the team time trial with his squad on stage 2, then grabbed the lead on the first summit finish on stage 3, the race was all but his to lose and it wasn’t even half-way over.
Even by racing conservatively – on the stage 3 summit finish at Jebel Jais he had virtually no choice when two key climbing teammates punctured, and then on stage 7 he did not need to do more than ‘just’ follow Adam Yates as far as he could – his first WorldTour weeklong stage race since the 2020 Tour de Pologne was there for the taking.
If you factor in two stage wins and a points jersey for Tim Merlier as well, it’s little wonder Patrick Lefevere is already using the individual and collective UAE success for Soudal-QuickStep to make a point about how poor they were in comparison in the Opening Weekend.
But if the effect of Lefevere’s Classics criticisms remains to be seen on the paves of Flanders and beyond, the effect of a big win for Evenepoel in February is relatively easier to measure, because it hinges on the past as much as the future.
Don’t forget that not 10 days ago, Evenepoel was ‘pleading’ with Tadej Pogačar not to win any more races, and recognising how the Slovenian’s explosive start to 2023 had helped boost his own motivation for early success. Since then another one of cycling’s top GC Grand Tour racers, Jonas Vingegaard has taken an equally dramatic run of victories in O Camiño and Dani Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers), touted as his team’s main option for the Tour de France, has also captured a finely calculated victory in the Volta ao Algarve. Evenepoel is up there with them now, at least in terms of 2023.
But you could actually argue that Evenepoel’s early season…
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