Few riders can dream of reaching the podium at their Tour de France debut, but few riders have had the same meteoric rise to the top as Remco Evenpoel.
The Belgian has a top-three spot in his sights for a highly-anticipated debut at the Tour in July, but his campaign to get there begins at Saturday’s Figueira Champions Classic in Portugal, where he’ll look to “take a victory as quick as possible.”
Evenepoel’s pre-race press conference for his Portuese block of racing saw him place the Tour above any other goal, with Paris-Nice, the Ardennes Classics and the Olympics also identified as major objectives.
“There are so many goals, but a dream coming true for this year is to be on the podium in Nice,” said Evenepoel to media including Cyclingnews.
“The spot doesn’t matter just to be on the podium in Nice, that would be a dream come true.”
He’ll have a star-studded start list in his way come July with defending champion Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike), two-time Tour winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and four-time Grand Tour champion Primož Roglič (Bora-Hansgrohe) also chasing the maillot jaune in a matchup for the ages.
But the young man has already achieved great things in the sport at only 24 so who’s to say he won’t have the ability when the Tour starts on June 29 in Florence?
There isn’t an early face-off in Portugal for Evenepoel with either of the trio mentioned, but the Vuelta winner who succeeded him, Sepp Kuss will be at the Volta ao Algarve and more than testing him up the race-deciding Alto da Fóia and Alto do Malhāo climbs.
The 24-year-old isn’t shying away from his big rivals, however, relishing that he’ll likely be racing Roglič at Paris-Nice in March and provisionally both the Slovenian and last year’s Tour winner Vingegaard at the pre-Tour Critérium du Dauphiné.
“For sure, we will see each other in Dauphiné and then three weeks in the tour. So it’s already quite a long period that we that we will race all together,” said Evenepoel.
“It’s always good to have them in the races where I will take the start line.”
The Figueira Champions Classic will be the first test for the Belgian champion on an “explosive” 222km route from São Pedro to Figueira da Foz. Evenepoel will have to navigate four laps of a hilly circuit, featuring category one and two climbs, around the coastal city if he is to start his 2024 season with a victory.
It’s the five days of racing in the Algarve that he’s more looking forward to in terms of how it will get the legs into gear. Evenepoel started 2023 at the UAE Tour while in 2022 he opted for racing in Valenciana and then the Portuguese region in what was his best season to date with the road World Championships and Vuelta a España title. So it’s no surprise to see him back.
“It’s always quite explosive racing here in Portugal. In the Algarve, they always have a complete stage race, flat stages, a bit more hilly stages and then the proper, let’s say, a semi-mountain stage with [Alto de] Foia (7.5km at 6%).
“So that’s why I really like Algarve. It’s a pretty short race in terms of days. But I think often or almost every season, I came out with better shape than I went into the race.”
Partnership with Landa and gravel at the Tour
It will also be the first opportunity to see Evenepoel race with his new teammate and likely super-domestique for the Tour de France, Mikel Landa.
“I think we will use this especially to get to know each other in the race,” Evenepoel said.
“We know each other from other teams, but we don’t blindly know how to know how somebody feels or exactly the moment when he feels good or not. That’s the most important [thing] this week, to really get to know each other.
“If one of the two has a bit of a bad day, we will empty our legs for the other one. I think it’s going to be a pretty easy partnership together.”
It has been a longer off-season for the time trial World Champion with five weeks off the bike and a lot of time to prepare for the season ahead which felt “quite unusual” for Evenepoel but he admitted “it was actually very necessary” with the big goals he has in mind.
With the Tour in his sights, Evenepoel did venture over to France towards the end of 2023 to recon some of the stages in “secret” that may be pivotal come July. The 25km stage 7 time trial from Nuits-Saint-Georges to Gevrey-Chambertin and the controversial gravel stage 9 starting and finishing in Troyes in particular.
But for Evenepoel, it wasn’t as divisive as it may have seemed when announced with the route not being overly “technical”. Ineos Grenadiers and Visma-Lease a Bike have also already been to Troyes to check out the gravel roads.
“The gravel stage is probably, for the outside world, going to look more crazy than it actually is,” Evenepoel said.
“The stage itself is not really technical. The sectors are not dangerous. I think it’s something that everybody should be aware of, that there is gravel, but it’s nothing nothing special.
“For sure we have to be careful with not losing stupid time there but I think it’s a very beautiful stage and I really enjoy the recons up there.”