Remco Evenepoel arrived in Belgium late on Thursday night after three weeks of hard labour atop Mount Teide with the Giro d’Italia in mind, but by Friday afternoon, he had already delivered a tacit message ahead of this weekend’s appointment with Tadej Pogačar at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Rather than simply feather his way through Soudal-QuickStep’s recon of the finale, Evenepoel couldn’t resist running through his scales on the familiar, friendly confines of the Côte de La Redoute, the launchpad for his winning attack a year ago. His time on the climb, it emerged later, was the quickest of the day on Strava. “Seen this, Tadej?” trilled the headline in Het Nieuwsblad.
Perhaps more than a message to Pogačar, Evenepoel’s effort on La Redoute was a way of assuaging any doubts of his own. Recent history has shown, after all, that preparing at altitude for the Giro is hardly compatible with racing for victory in Liège. The last man to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège and then ride the Giro was Alexandre Vinokourov back in 2010.
Then again, that kind of caveat, rarely seems to apply to Evenepoel. Last August, for instance, he shoehorned the Clàsica San Sebastiàn into his calendar amid blocks of altitude work before the Vuelta a España and he duly claimed a crushing solo victory. Speaking to reporters on Friday afternoon, he downplayed the idea that his build-up put him at a disadvantage against Pogačar.
“My preparation was completely for the Giro, but Liège is a big test like San Sebastian was last year, it’s good to have a big race day to find some rhythm,” said Evenepoel, who won La Doyenne at the first attempt last year. “I’ve prepared well and in the last week my work has been aimed towards on Liège, before I start focusing on the Giro again from Monday.
“I did a lot of endurance work in Tenerife anyway, and in Liège it’s the fifth and sixth hours of racing that count. At the end of a big Classic like Liège, the legs do the talking, and the kind of preparation you’ve had beforehand won’t count for much.”
Evenepoel’s mode of preparation isn’t the only difference as he returns to defend his title at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. His status, his rivals and the route itself have all changed since this time twelve months ago. The rainbow jersey on his back, Evenepoel suggested, will be a help rather than a hindrance in his first race on Belgian roads this year – “maybe it will give me a few extra watts” – while he was…
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