Patrick Lefevere has conceded there are still “doubts” about whether Remco Evenepoel can compete for Tour de France victory against Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar. The Soudal-QuickStep manager has also reiterated his opposition to the prospect of Evenepoel racing both the Giro d’Italia and Tour in 2024.
Evenepoel targeted the Giro in 2023, and he won both time trials in the opening week before abandoning the race while wearing the maglia rosa after contracting COVID-19.
He returned to action at the following month’s Tour de Suisse, placing third overall, but Lefevere wondered if he later paid a price for those efforts at the Vuelta a España.
Although Evenepoel got off to a fast start at the Vuelta, spending three days in the red jersey after winning the first summit finish at Arinsal, his GC challenge ended abruptly when he lost almost half an hour on stage 13 to the Col du Tourmalet.
“I think it was a combination of different factors,” Lefevere told La Dernière Heure. “Remco raced a lot this year and he probably didn’t take enough time to recover from his COVID infection. Maybe he should have started back at the Tour of Belgium instead of at the Tour of Switzerland, which was much harder.”
After winning the Vuelta in 2022, Evenepoel had planned to use this year’s Giro as a stepping stone towards his Tour debut next season. His abandon in Italy and his subsequent travails in Spain make it difficult to gauge his prospects in his likely Tour debut next July.
“As a result, we still have doubts about the exact level he can reach in the Tour de France against guys like Vingegaard and Pogačar,” Lefevere said. “We would have preferred if he could have enjoyed the Giro for three weeks before discovering the Tour de France. But because of all those setbacks this year, he immediately has to discover himself in the Tour.”
Evenepoel was still one of the outstanding performers of the 2023 season, clocking up 13 wins, including another solo exhibition at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and victory in the time trial at the World Championships. The Belgian also claimed a hat-trick of stage wins at the Vuelta, two at the Giro, overall victory at the UAE Tour and a sparkling win at the Clásica San Sebastián.
Although the Vuelta a San Juan will not be an international event in 2024, Lefevere indicated that Evenepoel may yet start next season in South America at the revived Tour Colombia.
Lefevere also revisited Soudal-QuickStep’s proposed merger…