“Don’t kill me if I don’t win,” Remco Evenepoel joked at one point on Friday evening, but the expectation, as ever, is that the world champion will be the man to beat when he begins his season at the Vuelta a San Juan this weekend.
When Evenepoel, fresh out of the junior ranks, made his professional debut at this race in 2019, the young phenomenon was already the centre of attention, obliged to do his growing up in public. Twelve months later, when he soared to overall victory, Evenepoel was hailed in the local press as the ‘Messi of cycling,’ and no honorific seemed too extreme.
In the three years since that last edition of the Vuelta a San Juan, so much about Evenepoel’s life has changed, and yet the basic premise of his career is still the same, even with the world title, Vuelta a España and Liège-Bastogne-Liège now neatly inscribed on his palmarès. Winning often and winning big doesn’t sate the demand for more, it only amplifies it.
“I’m three years older. That’s the biggest difference maybe, but for sure, a lot has happened – a lot of victories, a lot of emotions, a bad crash in between as well,” Evenepoel said. “I think all those things have changed me and made me become a new rider, and also a new person.”
Evenepoel has moved from Belgium to Calpe to escape some of the pressures of stardom back home, and when he travelled to Argentina almost two weeks before this race, the promise of preparing in relative peace was surely as much a motivation as the chance to train in the heat.
One always finds one’s burden again, of course, and Evenepoel was on stage at the Del Bono hotel in San Juan on Friday evening for a press conference with the local and international press. He looked to dampen some expectations, playfully chiding the race organisation for removing the time trial in which he forged his 2020 overall victory.
“It would always be nice to have some time trials, but we’ll deal with what we get,” Evenepoel said. “There are some other opportunities to try to take the win, but maybe if they want me back next year, they should do a TT. I’m looking at the organisation to bring back the TT.”
Soudal-QuickStep’s training ride on Friday morning included some work on their sprint lead-out, with Evenepoel seemingly set to serve as the fourth-last man before Yves Lampaert and Michael Mørkøv guide Fabio Jakobsen to the finish. There…