At just 19 years of age, Remco Evenepoel has already signed with one of the most successful teams in the world, going directly from the junior ranks to WorldTour level as he joined Deceuninck - Quick-Step ahead of this season.
We caught up with Evenepoel as he prepared for his Hammer Series debut to talk about his first season as a pro and what he expects from the hard racing in Stavanger this weekend.
Taking the jump directly from junior to elite impressed many. How did your new teammates welcome you on the first training camp?
I must say that everybody really gave me a warm welcome. They didn’t look at me any differently compared to the other new riders. But for sure they wanted to test me to see what my level was like. We did some test races in training and I was actually able to hurt them a little bit. It was fun.
Did you feel any extra pressure to show you were strong enough to be there?
Well, I was definitely motivated to show up at the training camp in good shape already. Maybe that’s why my level was a little bit better than those who hadn’t trained as much leading up to it. However, I didn’t feel my race level was that good.
But you impressed right away in your very first race with the team …
That’s true. It was a big moment to start out like that in Argentina. Especially in the time trial [third place]. When I got in the hot-seat, I thought to myself: “Wow, maybe I can win this”. Unfortunately, the wind direction then changed and the late starting riders had a big advantage. I’m still happy for my podium place though. This was the first time that I felt I could really go hard at this level. However, I also know I still have a lot of work to do.
At the UAE Tour, you had another breakthrough performance against top riders …
Yes, I was hoping to make the top 20 in the first mountain stage and I ended up 15th, only a minute down on Valverde. I was pretty happy with that. The favorites started out the final climb at a very fast pace, which I still really can’t match, so I just kept my own rhythm and slowly got back and overtook one rider after another. It was a great result. I actually think it will be one of my best results of the whole season.
Apart from the speed, what has been the biggest change compared to junior racing?
The life of a pro is very different to what I was used to. Last year, I was still in school and busy the whole day. Now, I have so much time on my hands. I wake up, maybe go for a little ride on the bike before breakfast, then I eat something and then I go for another ride.
In my school days, my day would be over after my afternoon ride but now, I’m back already at 3 or 4pm and that’s it. I have nothing more to do. This is when you have to be smart about recovery and I feel – maybe because I’m still young – that I have some difficulties adjusting to this part of my new life. In the first months of the season, I probably made a few mistakes in this area, not getting enough rest.
Have your teammates given you any advice on how to cope with this new lifestyle?
Yes, to always a have good base at home with my family and keep good friends around me. And also not to stay at home all time when you’re not riding. For example, if you come back from a race and have a few days off the bike, it’s important to get out and do something with your friends. Go bowling or something like that. Just to clear your mind and not think about cycling all the time. This is something I need to learn and do more of so I can enjoy life more.
What has been your best moment on the bike this year?
Uff, that’s a good question! Except from my performances in Argentina and Turkey, there was this day in UAE Tour. A day with lots of wind and echelons. It was a real war out there and the peloton had split in two. I got caught behind a crash and ended up in the second echelon but I felt the pace wasn’t high enough so I attacked and rode across to the first group on my own.
When I got there, another crash happened and I found myself behind once again. This time with Elia Viviani, who we were going for that day. Tom Dumoulin was also in that group. I started to pull at the front for Viviani and I just went full gas for 10 minutes or so trying and close the gap. Eventually we made it back and when things calmed down a bit, Dumoulin went to me and said “Wow, you’re really amazing. Good job!”
That was really a big moment for me, to have the Giro d’Italia winner and time trial world champion come and tell me that. It was the most beautiful moment of my season so far.
Looking at the Hammer Series, what do you think of this format of short and intense racing?
I’ve been watching it on YouTube and I’m preparing for a war! [laughing] For me, it’s much better to have a hard race like this with two hours of flat out racing and instead of four hours of walking on the bike. Maybe the climbs are a little bit too short for me but when you have to do them every lap, it really adds up to a lot of climbing at the end. I think this type of racing will really suit me.
Yes, with your aggressive and tenacious way of racing, Hammer seems like the perfect kind of racing for you …
I agree. Especially the Hammer Climb will suit my way of riding. It’s going to be a tough one. My teammates have already told me it’s one of the hardest races of the season. If I have good legs, I think this will be a good day for me. I’m really looking forward to it.
Does it make it more special that it’s the team winning and not an individual rider?
Definitely. That’s actually the most beautiful part about the Hammer Series I think. As teammates, we need each other and in these races, we need to be smart as a team. For example, one rider can go and take points on one lap and then come back to the peloton. Then, another rider, who’s more fresh, can attack. That way, we can save the legs a little bit and use our strength as a team. You have to think differently as a team in these races. It’s a new style of cycling and I really like it.
You can watch Remco Evenepoel and his Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammates go all-out at Hammer Stavanger starting on Friday. For more information about the event, click here.