A lot has changed since Remco Evenepoel’s Grand Tour debut in 2021.
It was in that year’s Giro d’Italia when cycling fans were treated to dramatic scenes of the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider ripping out his race radio as he flagged on the tough gravel inclines of stage 11. His teammate, João Almeida, was in a group ahead – despite supposed to be working as a domestique – and was eventually forced to slow down and wait for a seething Evenepoel. The young Belgian lost two minutes that day, then lost 24 minutes in the mountains a few stages later and eventually abandoned the race before stage 18 after being caught up in a crash on a descent in the final 30 km the day before.
Fast forward two years and there can be absolutely no question over Evenepoel’s role as the undisputed GC leader of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl. How can anyone doubt a man who won the 2022 Vuelta a España at just 22-years-old then two weeks later rode away from the entire professional men’s peloton to win solo at the World Championships by almost two and a half minutes? 2022 was truly the year of Remco.
Some people loved it, cheered him on, revelled in his success, but some not so much. It’s fair to say that Evenepoel has come under his fair share of criticism in previous years, with some taking his confidence as immodest, his motivation to succeed as arrogant naivety. Regardless of which camp you sit in, though, Evenepoel is likely to be a household name in the cycling world for years to come, and we probably should get used to seeing him on the top step of the podium in the world’s biggest races.
If there’s one group that seems to be very much ‘Team Remco’ it’s the organisers of next year’s Giro d’Italia. It is hard to imagine a route better made to the Quick Step rider’s strengths, almost as if the designers had closed their eyes and dreamt of how good it would feel to have one of the most exciting riders in the world at their race. While race director Mauro Vegni has never explicitly stated that he wants Evenepoel at the Giro next year, there’s a long history in the sport of race organisers trying to attract particular established stars who they believe could produce the most compelling spectacle. Last year, Vegni put a time trial on the Slovenian border – it’s not hard to guess who he had in mind riding there.
In Vegni’s 2023 edition of the race, the Giro d’Italia includes three time trials in total, with a flat 18.4km opening stage in Abruzzio, an 18.6km mountain time trial in Friuli-Venezia Giulia on the penultimate stage, and a lengthy 33.6km ITT in Emilia Romagna at the end of the first week. Added all together, that makes for a total of 70.6 time trialling kilometres – the most of any Giro since the 2013 edition, and almost three times as many as at last year’s.
In 2022, Evenepoel beat Primož Roglič by 48 seconds in the time trial on his way to winning the Vuelta a Espana. He came third at the World Championships ITT. Away from the hustle and bustle of the hectic bunch and alone against the clock, Evenepoel always comes to his own.
Unsurprisingly to many, this heavily-weighted time-trialling route has got the Giro d’Italia its wish, grazie Remco. On Wednesday, Evenepoel announced that he would start in the 2023 edition of the race – resplendent in his newly-won rainbow bands – taking full aim at a second Grand Tour win, still in his early twenties. The roads of Italy will be the encore to his victory this year in the Vuelta, with the tifosi likely lining the roads to catch a glimpse of the prodigal superstar themselves.
Of course, the Giro will be about much more than just the time trials and Evenepoel will not have the race handed to him. While he may be able to gain an advantage in the opening half of the race, the mountains come thick and fast in the final weeks, starting with stage 14’s Grand Saint Bernard and Crans Montana. There are plenty of steep inclines, technical descents, even an Il Lombardia-style stage 15 to Bergamo, and stage 20 is a tough mountain test against the clock.
However, Evenepoel and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl announcing that he will compete in the 2023 Giro d’Italia as early as November 2022 screams confidence. The Belgian’s own video message on social media shows him completing a reconnaissance of the race’s parcours almost five months before it begins. All of this tells us that the Giro is something the World Champion is taking very seriously indeed.
So, is another Grand Tour win for Evenepoel on the cards next year? It’s true that the Giro d’Italia is a race of intrigue, drama, supreme difficulty and it can be turned on its head quickly, and when it’s least expected. But, Evenepoel has proven in 2022 that he’s a well-rounded rider who can keep an impressively level-head under pressure and media scrutiny. His descending has improved, he has matured, and wearing the rainbow jersey is only going to boost his morale every single time he gets on a bicycle. We’re not betting people, but this Giro d’Italia has been created for the Belgian star, and, as things stand, we are hard-pressed to think of another rider who can get the better of him in Italy next year.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix