World championships notebook: Tadej Pogačar back among mere mortals, and who’s more popular, Remco Evenepoel or Wout van Aert?

Remco Evenepoel says his power now is even better than before his crash last year at Il Lombardia as fans show up en masse for worlds opener.

Photo: DAVID STOCKMAN/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images

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BRUGES, Belgium (VN) — The Tour de France seemed a long way away for Tadej Pogačar at the world championships on Sunday.

Two months ago, Pogačar blazed to time trial victory in the first week of the Tour to cement his second straight yellow jersey.

On Sunday, he couldn’t do much against the time trial brawlers in the flat, 43.3km pure-power course, and settled for 10th at 1:53 back behind the specialists.

“I knew that it was almost impossible to win, I gave my best and I felt better than I did at the Europeans, so I was pretty happy with my performance,” Pogačar said. “It was not the fastest time, but I had a good day.”

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Of course, the Tour is a different beast entirely than the one-off world championships.

The time trial course Pogačar won on in July was better-suited to his style of racing, and he was at his peak form of fitness as he raced to defend his yellow jersey.

Sunday’s flat affair saw Pogačar easing back into competition over the past few weeks after coming off winning the Tour, hitting bronze in the Olympic road race, and getting engaged to marry his girlfriend.

Still, 10th was a decent showing for the 22-year-old Slovenian who promises to come back one day to win a rainbow jersey on the road one day before his career is over.

Greg LeMond, who won the Tour and the world title in 1989, is the last Tour winner to double up as a world champion in the road race.

Pogačar was quick to downplay his chances for Sunday, when he’ll face a Tour of Flanders-type course packed with short, steep climb and narrow roads.

“It’s not a course for me, it’s a pretty long race. For sure, it’s going to be a hard race,” Pogačar said. “Many nations want a hard race, so it’s going to be really interesting. I don’t have my hopes really high.”

“I am here to try my best, as always,” he added. “I will try to fight for the highest places.”

Bigger cheers, Wout or Remco?

So who got the bigger cheers from the crowds, Remco Evenepoel or Wout van Aert? Of course, both of the Belgian stars received a hero’s welcome racing on home roads.

Belgian fans love a winner, and with both of them prolifically adding W’s to their palmares, both seem equally adored.

Ask who’s more popular, and Belgian journalists will give a nuanced answer. They say Remco is more popular with the younger fans, while Wout draws in the more traditional set.

What’s sure is that there’s no acrimony between the two, at least not anything that’s spilling out into the public. Anyone looking for some back-room drama will be disappointed, as insiders say that there’s no open jealousy or intrigue among the Belgian ranks.

That could change if Evenepoel goes rouge on Sunday, and disrupts the team’s plans to ride for van Aert.

Belgian Remco Evenepoel of Deceuninck - Quick-Step pictured after the men elite time trial race, 43,3 km from Knokke-Heist to Brugge, at the UCI World Championships Road Cycling Flanders 2021, in Brugge on Sunday 19 September 2021. The Worlds take place from 19 to 26 September 2021, in several cities in Flanders, Belgium. BELGA PHOTO POOL SIMON WILKINSON (Photo by POOL SIMON WILKINSON/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)
Remco Evenepoel is a crowd favorite during the 2021 world championships. (Photo: SIMON WILKINSON/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Remco Evenepoel pleased as punch with power revival

Remco Evenepoel was ecstatic with his third-place bronze medal, calling it “like a victory” against the two superior time trialists.

And even more so, considering how far he’s come since crashing into a ravine in last year’s Il Lombardia that left him bruised and battered, with some wondering about his future as a cyclist.

“I am pushing my power again, even better than before my crash at Lombardia,” Evenepoel said Sunday. “Today I could really push all the way. I could not go faster. I would have blown up if I tried to push more. I am just happy with everything I am doing now. If you are third behind the two best time trial riders in the world, you can only be happy and proud. Knowing it’s a completely flat course, I could not do better. It feels good to push like this again.”

Only three yellow jerseys have won TT rainbows

The saying goes, if you can’t time trial, you’re never going to win the Tour de France.

But if you can time trial, you can win the rainbow jersey.

Since its inception as a world championship discipline in 1994, only three riders — Miguel Indurain, Jan Ullrich, and Bradley Wiggins — have won the Tour and the rainbow stripes against the clock.

Only Indurain did it the same year as one of his five-straight yellow jerseys, when he won the time trial title in 1995 in what was his final Tour win.

Ullrich won two world TT titles, in 1999 and in 2001, both years he was second to Lance Armstrong (now disqualified) at the Tour. Wiggins won the Tour in 2012, and the TT title in 2014.

What’s next?

The elite women square off Monday on a similar course to the elite men’s, but without the out-and-back along the canals. There’s a long list of favorites, though many wonder if the flat course might not be ideal for Annemiek van Vleuten.

The U23 men race on a 30.3 course, with Australia’s Luke Plapp (set for Ineos Grenadiers in 2022) and Finn Fischer-Black (Jumbo-Visma) among the favorites.

The weather is expected to be mild Monday, with mostly sunny skies, only light wind, and temperatures in the mid-60s.


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