The Belgian prodigy won the first Grand Tour of his career after a controlled Vuelta a España from week one.
The coronation of Remco Evenepoel. A major international cycling phenomenon whose appearances have been under scrutiny since 2020, the Belgian has won the 2022 edition of the Vuelta a España. Eagerly awaited at the starting line, the 22-year-old had expressed his desire to play in the general classification, in particular against Primoz Roglic, the three-time defending champion who was finally forced to retire on Tuesday after a crash. It was consecrated this Sunday in Madrid, where Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Emirates) won the 21st and final sprint stage, one breath ahead of the green jersey Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).
With the leader’s red jersey on his back for 16 days, Evenepoel handled this great pressure with authority and brilliance, even giving himself a second victory (after the time trial of the second week) this Thursday during the 18th stage, where he surpassed a final time the hopes of his rival Enric Mas (Movistar). The 27-year-old Spaniard thus finished second in the test, just ahead of another early phenomenon, his compatriot Juan Ayuso (United Arab Emirates, 19 years old).
On Saturday, at the end of a final mountain stage won by the polka dot jersey Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), the Belgian finally let go of the pressure, overwhelmed with emotion as he realized the extent of his feat. Living up to the expectations of an entire country, which this Sunday became the first Belgian to win a Grand Tour since Johan De Muynck, the last rider to make the Brabançonne reason at the end of a Grand Tour, during the Giro 1978. He also did (much) better than his father, who had walked the roads of the Vuelta a España before him: “My father always told me that he finished last (113 out of 114 during the 1993 edition, editor’s note). I joked around and told him it would be funny if he finished first (…) I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can.»
Already winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April and after the Clásica San Sebastián (for the second time), Evenepoel received on Saturday a “exceptional year, the best of (his) life“, the one whose start of the race had been stopped by the network due to a terrible accident during the Tour of Lombardy in August 2020.
From soccer apprentice to Grand Tour winner
The prodigy from Schepdaal thus offers his Quick-Step-Alpha Vinyl line-up, quite accustomed to the Classics and stage victories, a first victory in a Grand Tour. “Everyone announced that Remco would be the next Belgian Grand Tour winner. He proved it. We are proud of himi”, rejoiced his manager Patrick Lefévère.
A triumph that did not fail to salute his teammate Julian Alaphilippe, lined up alongside him at the start of this Vuelta, abandoned on the afternoon of the 11th stage after another crash. “Congratulations on this victory. Work pays, sacrifices too. It is not the first time nor the last that you are going to surprise us“, greeted the two-time world champion on Twitter.
The Frenchman was at the forefront to witness the advent of the prodigy, whose precocity led to the nickname “little cannibal”, echoing his illustrious predecessor Eddy Merckx. A nickname and the beginning of a still unsuspected career a little over six years ago, when Evenepoel, an athletic midfielder, was captain of the Anderlecht U-16 also called up by the Belgian national team. But the future champion changed course to turn to national sport: “I quit football, I want to ride a bike.»
Duel with Van Aert in the World Cup?
Well, he took it, then. Raised to star status by an entire country, Evenepoel shares the poster with Wout Van Aert, another Belgian cyclist with resounding success. But there will only be room for one of the two riders from Wollogong, Australia in two weeks (September 25), where the two men will dream of stealing the iridescent world champion jersey from Julian Alaphilippe.
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