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JEBEL HAFEET, UAE (VN) – Remco Evenepoel was a lot better than even he expected in the Emirates this week.
Evenepoel soared to an assured 59-second overall victory at the UAE Tour that gave glimmers of bigger things to come as the world champion bounds toward the Giro d’Italia.
“I wasn’t expecting myself to win this race already. I came here to do a good result, but to win by one minute is quite a lot,” Evenepoel told the press Sunday. “I was there every day, I was in good shape all week. I can only be happy.”
Evenepoel and his Soudal Quick-Step team targeted a slow start to 2023 to save the Belgian for a bump in form ahead of May’s corsa rosa.
They forwent the go-to winter altitude camp of most top-level pros in the hopes of bringing Evenepoel up hard in the spring.
Instead, the Belgian baller rolled through Veulta a San Juan and trained on “home” soil in Spain as half the WorldTour trained at thin air across Europe and South America.
The bet paid off.
“Without altitude, without specific work, I think there’s much more improvement possible,” Evenepoel said. “So it’s all good for now.”
Evenepoel bent but didn’t break Sunday under an onslaught from pure climber Adam Yates on the steep slopes of Jebel Hafeet.
The ride capped Evenepoel’s assured overall victory at the UAE Tour. The 23-year-old put the power into Quick-Step’s team time trial victory, sprinted for seconds on Jebel Jais, and neutralized threats in the crosswind-stricken fifth stage.
A slim gap Sunday to “King of Hafeet” Yates in reportedly the climb’s fastest ascent put the cherry onto the 11th GC win of Evenepoel’s career.
⛰️⏱️ JEBEL HAFEET (10.75 km) | #UAETour
2015 | 27:20 | Chaves
2016 | 29:15 | Kangert
2017 | 26:53 | Costa
2018 | 26:40 | Valverde
2019 | 26:55 | Valverde
2020 | 26:25 | A.Yates
2020 | 26:33 | Pogacar
2021 | 26:16 | Pogacar
2022 | 26:37 | Pogacar
2023 | 26:13 | A.Yates (record⏱️)
— ammattipyöräily (@ammattipyoraily) February 26, 2023
“I knew Adam has been at altitude almost the whole winter, so you know he’s going to fly uphill. But then in the end, 10 seconds is a pretty small margin knowing that I didn’t start my specific work yet,” Evenepoel said atop Hafeet.
“I think maybe I underestimated myself a bit in the beginning of the week. But that’s only a good sign going toward the Giro.”
Evenenepoel is set to take some rest before he heads up to Teide to start his training for the relentless climbs of the Giro d’Italia. A return to action at the Volta a Catalunya next month will test his progress.
Evenepoel will to be joined on Tenerife’s volcano by select Quick-Step teammates as management weighs up its “Giro eight.”
Team staff confirmed to VeloNews this week it has a 12-rider longlist for the May grand tour, a selection set to be slimmed in racing through the spring.
“I saw the team was good, but we’re not on the top level yet. So we have time. We will now go to altitude for the first time and start the real specific work towards the Giro,” Evenepoel confirmed.
The UAE Tour’s red jersey now joins a brimming collection of leader’s apparel for Evenepoel.
But as only his second one-week win at WorldTour level, and given what it might mean in context of his full calendar, this one may mean a little more.
Quite the palmares for @EvenepoelRemco in stage races 🔥
🏆 Vuelta a España
🏆 UAE Tour
🏆 Tour de Pologne
🏆🏆 Tour of Belgium
🏆🏆 Volta ao Algarve
🏆 Vuelta a San Juan
🏆 Tour of Norway
🏆 Danmark Rundt
🏆 Vuelta a Burgos pic.twitter.com/KzJQ0A0OB4
— Soudal Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team (@soudalquickstep) February 26, 2023