‘Go quietly to the toilet’, José De Cauwer advised us after Remco Evenepoel had run off with a Kazakh in his wheel, although immediately throwing after it: ‘But take your television with you!’ Thirty kilometers later we saw Evenepoel on that television as the new world champion cycling on the road. Where we were then is nobody’s business.
Evenepoel’s ultimate attack – which, as usual with him, was no attack: he just pushed a little harder on the pedals – took place in the penultimate lap. That timing was predicted by most experts: “Usually a World Cup is decided in the last two rounds,” he said. Dirk De Wolf in Humo. Evenepoel, not only a fellow countryman of De Wolf, but apparently also a Humolese, quickly drove away from Alexey Lutsenko and went into the final round solo. “If he crosses the finish line the last time before the finish line with a two-minute lead, they won’t see him again,” he said. Karl Vannieuwkerke. He was right. Almost two and a half minutes later sprinted Wout van Aert for the silver, but finished fourth.
“I don’t think I will ever have a better season,” Evenepoel said afterwards, remarkably controlled. That serenity is perhaps the greatest metamorphosis that the child prodigy from Schepdaal has undergone in the past year. Without sharp edges, he is again the spontaneous boy who wishes you every success. ‘There will be no criticism here,’ said mother agna to the Sporza reporter who had gone to the supporters cafe of the new world champion. With that she referred to last year’s World Cup in Leuven. Evenepoel broke the course open from much too far and guided Julian Alaphilippe so in a seat to the world title. That got him a lot of criticism. Justifiable criticism, because if he then raced in Australia as he does now, Wout van Aert in particular would have had better chances of winning in Leuven. With the rainbow win in Wollongong, Evenepoel has now finally settled that discussion in his favor.
Van Aert finished just outside the medals. Just as Evenepoel Lutsenko broke loose, he accelerated in the background. A striking effort that could count on little understanding from De Cauwer: ‘Van Aert must check, this is against the rules of the game!’ According to Van Aert, he did not know how far Evenepoel drove ahead and how many riders separated him from his compatriot. He didn’t even know that he was sprinting for a medal. The handshake with Evenepoel was hearty, and it was even a joke. But they didn’t hug each other – in view of the cameras anyway. Evenepoel has already won his first world title – he is 22 – time is running out for Van Aert – 28.
The question, raised by Evenepoel himself, remains whether he will ever drive a better season. With someone who mocks all the current theories, anything is possible. Earlier this season, Evenepoel won a monument (Liège-Bastogne-Liège), a Grand Tour (the Vuelta) and now the rainbow jersey. Only three riders did that before him: Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and an Italian almost 100 years ago. The last to combine a Grand Tour win with the world title was Greg LeMond in 1989 – he then won the Tour. The fact that Evenepoel also took the World Cup bronze in the time trial, barely one week after he won the Vuelta, went against every current theory about fitness and jet lag processing.
2022 will be a year not to forget for Evenepoel, with his marriage to fiancé later on Oumi. The ‘Remcomania’ will only increase in strength. Renaat Schotte gave a foretaste: ‘Deep bow! Congratulations! Cheers!’ he concluded his interview with the new world champion with three exclamation marks before falling out of the picture in a swoon. “It’s sport, it’s entertainment!” Earlier during the race, Vannieuwkerke had already let himself go in a bizarre attack against the Dutch who find his reporting too chauvinistic. As long as he keeps calling Remco Evenepoel.
Ten years after Philippe Gilbert – who will ride his last professional race in two weeks – Belgium has another world champion on the road. Whether Evenepoel will give up on it ten years after his world title, like Gilbert, is a question that cannot be answered now. Should he wish to appropriate the epithet ‘Merckxian’, he will be able to use it every year. Merckx won 525 races in his career, Evenepoel is at 38. Go, Rem… Evenepoel!