It’s official: Remco Evenepoel is going to the Tour de France. This won’t come as news to anyone who has followed the media circus surrounding the renowned Belgian, who, following months of will he / won’t he speculation, has recently begun to speak openly about his ambitions for the 2024 Tour. But now cycling’s worst-kept secret has been officially confirmed at Soudal-Quick-Step’s team presentation on Tuesday, where Evenepoel’s season plans were revealed with the Tour de France as the one and only Grand Tour on the schedule.
Anticipation for Evenepoel’s Tour de France debut has been building not just for months, but years. Ever since he sensationally burst onto the scene as an all-conquering teenager at junior level he has been talked about as a potential yellow jersey winner one day, and, despite the occasional setback, he has delivered upon his enormous potential since turning professional. Now, with a Grand Tour victory under his belt, along with many of the WorldTour’s most prestigious stage races and Classics, not to mention World titles on both the road and in the time trial, he feels he is ready to take on the biggest race of them all.
So, now we know for sure that he’s riding the Tour, the next question to ponder is: what can we realistically expect of Evenepoel? Excitement abounds about the prospect of him challenging for the yellow jersey, but does Evenepoel himself share that ambition? In public, he has been careful to play the media game of managing expectations, telling the Belgian press back in December that top five on GC was the aim, and being reluctant to state even a similarly conservative number on his hoped-for finishing place during Tuesday's presentation, stating vaguely instead that his “dream is to fight to Nice with Vingegaard, Pogačar and Roglič”. But in response, team boss Patrick Lefevere echoed what many of those hearing these comments felt: that, knowing Evenepoel’s character and thirst for success, deep down “he wants to win.”
Would a stage win be enough for Evenepoel to be happy with this Tour? “My main goal will be to come out with a stage win, at least one hopefully, and then we will see about the GC,” he told the press on Tuesday. Indeed, as a Tour debutant, doing so would add something very prestigious and currently missing from his palmarès, as would wearing the yellow jersey for just one day, which Evenepoel pointed out would see him complete the collection of all three Grand Tour leader’s jerseys having previously held the pink and red colours at the Giro and Vuelta respectively. But if these sidequests really were Evenepoel’s priority, it seems likely that he would have followed through on the idea of riding both the Giro and the Tour. The logic of skipping the Giro was so that he would be as fresh as possible for the Tour, something only really required when committing to the all-encompassing day-to-day grind of riding for GC. For all that he talks down his GC prospects, it would be very strange for him not to do so at the only Grand Tour he is scheduled to ride this year.
With this in mind, we can expect Evenepoel to reign in some of his more aggressive impulses in order to preserve his energy to play the long game of targeting GC. He said so himself at the presentation, explaining how though he can ride the early season races with some “crazy ideas,” and that “Grand Tours are a completely different story”. Don’t therefore expect Evenepoel to ride with the same care-free aplomb as during the second half of the Vuelta a España last year, where he tried to get into the break virtually every day, and managed to win two stages. Regardless, in order to be allowed the freedom to do so he’d have to have lost enough time to be no longer deemed a threat on GC; if he is to fulfil his stated goal of winning a stage, it will have to come as a byproduct of chasing the GC while in direct competition with the likes of Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, and not via a headstart from a break.
His best hope for a stage win are also the stages in which he can best lay down his credentials as a yellow jersey candidate — the two time trials. Three of his seven Grand Tour stages to date have come against the clock, and as world champion in the discipline, he’ll be the man to beat for both the 25km stage seven to Gevrey-Chambertin and the 34km finale in Nice. In fact, it’s very plausible that the former stage could see him take the yellow jersey — with only one day in the mountains preceding it, which is not expected to be too decisive, the time gaps on GC could be close for a victory in the time trial to be enough to take the overall lead. If Evenepoel can get himself into yellow, things will get very interesting.
The number of time trialling kilometres is one of the reasons Evenepoel might actually be better suited to the Tour de France than the other Grand Tours. It’s not just the fact the 2024 editions will include 59km in total, almost twice the amount featured in the 2022 Vuelta that he won. It’s that they aren’t so offset by climbing challenges in the other stages, whether that be the huge high altitude summits of the Giro, or the countless steep uphills of the Vuelta. The Tour is generally more predictable, meaning a time trial specialist like Evenepoel can gain time in the stages against the clock without having so many variables to worry about throughout the rest of the race.
Rather than the parcours, it's the extra pressure and incomparable level of fame and media scrutiny that makes the Tour such a different prospect to the other Grand Tours. But in this respect too, Evenepoel appears well-equipped. Since his teenage years he’s been subjected to attention unparalleled in the cycling world for someone so young, yet the way his continued development and matching of the high expectations demanded of him suggests this has never fazed him. The pressure of the Tour manifests in other ways, too, such as an increased level of nervousness in the peloton that makes crashes common, but even in this sense Evenepoel may have little cause for concern — he has not had a DNF from a race as a result of a crash since the 2021 Giro d'Italia.
All this said, there are still some stages that Evenepoel will be fearful of. It’s worth noting that the day his GC campaign at last year’s Vuelta unravelled was when the race crossed the border into France, for a succession of long, high-altitude mountains in the French Pyrenees, and the final phase of this year’s Tour de France features similarly big summits in the Pyrenees and Alps that will severely test Evenepoel’s known vulnerability for long climbing efforts.
If the Pyrenees will bring back unpleasant memories from his last Grand Tour appearance, the inclusion of 32km of gravel roads on stage nine will do the same for his first. Evenepoel went into the comparable stage 11 of the 2021 Giro well-poised in second place on GC, but endured a grim experience on the strade bianche that day, dropping away from the group of favourites to lose about two minutes. Evenepoel clearly isn’t a fan of the gravel, opposing their inclusion at the Tour upon last year’s route announcement by deeming it unnecessary. He has matured a lot as a rider since that Giro, becoming much more multifaceted and ironing out previous flaws in his armoury, but does remain concerningly unproven on the gravel.
Above all, it’s the calibre of opposition that will provide Evenepoel’s sternest test. He has never before had a sustained GC contest against either of the mighty duo of Vingegaard and Pogačar, and nobody has gotten anywhere near these two in anywhere near these two for the last two Tours de France. Even race director Christian Prudhomme is excitedly talking up the Belgian’s potential to “upset the applecart”, but will he be able to follow them when they start attacking on the climbs?
Whatever happens, we know from the way he bounced back at last year’s Vuelta that Evenepoel is not a quitter, and the incentive of gaining the experience of finishing a career-first Tour de France means he’ll want to make it to the finish and continue chasing stage wins even if he does drop out of the GC race. Evenepoel is box office every time he races, and his Tour de France debut should be no exception.