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The dust hasn’t even settled on the Vuelta a España but Remco Evenepoel’s grand tour future is already generating debate with team boss Patrick Lefevere suggesting that a tilt at the 2023 Giro d’Italia could be next.
“I’m still coming to terms with what the kid did,” Lefevere told VeloNews.
“At the start of the race we said publicly it was about a top-ten but internally we thought maybe a top-five or even podium for him but the win is something else. Everything went smoother than we thought, but he deserved it.”
Also read: Is this the start of the “reign of Remco”?
For Lefevere it was Evenepoel’s all-round ability and maturity that stood out over the Spanish grand tour. The young Belgian was competing in only his second three-week race as a pro rider, with his first attempt at the 2021 Giro d’Italia ending with a DNF. At the Vuelta he won two stages and never looked back after moving into the overall lead on stage 6.
“If you win a grand tour it’s about everything,” Lefevere said. “First of all, his time trial was amazing. In the first week when he dropped everyone without really attacking, but by just speeding up and speeding up, that was impressive. Everyone said he couldn’t do it on the steep climbs but he did.
“He was also strong in the head.
“We were unlucky to lose Pieter Serry and Julian Alaphilippe. We don’t have to hide that Julian was very important for Remco because they compliment each other very well, and he listens to Julian. When Julian crashed it was a sad moment for Remco, and if you look back at history everyone was saying that we were a nice team, but a classics squad, and not a grand tour one. But we won with five riders and Remco.”
Building for the future
Over the last couple of weeks Lefevere has been questioned in the Belgian press with regards to the strength in depth at Quick-Step, as well as the team’s long-term vision when it comes to supporting Evenepoel’s grand tour plans. The team coped remarkably well during the Vuelta considering its relative inexperience and the loss of two riders but Lefevere admits that over the coming years more grand tour domestiques will be required.
For 2023 it looks as though Lefevere’s hands are tied in the transfer market. He already picked up Tim Merlier to replace the departing Mark Cavendish but in twelve months time the Belgian team boss will have a much clearer canvas when it comes to constructing a team.
“Unfortunately we only have five riders out of contact this year and we knew that Iljo Keisse was stopping so it was difficult. From 2024 onwards we can move and try and get one or two more strong riders. Remco’s weak spot at the moment is when it comes to fighting in the bunch for position. They said he can’t descend but he can descend. He can do everything but fighting when it comes to a bunch sprint and not having to pull for himself, so he has to have a rider around him. I think that we have a good one in Mattia Cattaneo but he had bad luck this year, getting COVID twice. He was 11th last year in the Tour, did the leadouts for Cavendish and he’s got a good TT. Next year I think he can help Remco a lot.”
The key question when looking to next season surrounds Evenepoel’s next move. Having conquered the Vuelta at the tender age of 22, is he ready to take on the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour de France in 2023?
“I’m not Madame Soleil. I saw that Pogačar won in Montreal and in a big way so he’s in good shape again,” Lefevere said. “Everyone knows he’s a super talent but when the time is right we’ll try and fight against them. But if it’s down to me then I’d say let’s go one by one, so Vuelta, then Giro and then Tour. If it’s down to me then next year it would be the Giro.”