Remco Evenepoel: The new Eddy Merckx? | More sports | DW | 25.09.2019
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Remco Evenepoel: The new Eddy Merckx?

Belgium is electrified by a 19-year-old. Remco Evenepoel has won time-trial silver in Yorkshire, but that's just another day in the life of Belgium's latest cycling super talent, who was still a footballer two years ago.

The ride started with a moment of shock: Remco Evenepoel rolled off the launch pad, accelerating and then suddenly stopped pedaling. He fiddled with his aero-sock with his right hand, calmly pulling it up a bit. Then he continued his journey. Whatever bothered him in the saddle, it did not last long.

The 19-year-old Belgian stormed the 54 kilometer long track of the time trial world championship. Evenepte was second in the first intermediate time trial, ahead of seasoned pros like Vuelta winner Primoz Rogic or four times world champion Tony Martin. And the impressive thing was: Evenepoel kept his pace, was even faster towards the end compared with the competition. With a veritable sprint he raced to the finish line in Harrogate and took the lead with a clear lead of 46.07 seconds ahead of runner-up Filippo Ganna from Italy.

With a quick wave to the crowd, Evenepoel soon took the hot seat of the leader in the finish. A quick handshake with the competitors, a smile, that's it. No trace of nervousness, his body language is already that of a champion. Only one rider was faster in the end: Rohan Dennis. The Australian, who quarreled with his team during the Tour de France and got out of the race under mysterious circumstances, was in a class of his own in the World Cup time trial, earning his second consecutive time-standing gold after his triumph, 1:10 minutes ahead of Evenepoel 2018 in Innsbruck.

From left-back to the track

The history of Evenepoel is quite remarkable. Born in 2000 in a small suburb of Brussels, he started playing football at the age of five. He played first for Belgian side RSC Anderlecht and later for PSV Einhoven in the Netherlands, usually as a left-back.

Fußballspiel | Italy U15 v Belgium U15 - International Friendly - Davide Merola und Remco Evenepoel (Getty Images/M. Lagana)

Before taking up professional cycling, Remco Evenepoel was a promising footballer for Belgium.

He quickly prevailed in all youth teams, despite its relatively small size, and was even captain of the Belgian U17 national team. His extraordinary stamina was recognised in football too: "When he went to PSV for a few years at the age of eleven, his father told me that he had a huge VO2 maximum (the maximum oxygen absorption capacity of the body under load," the youth team coach of Anderlecht, Jean Kindermanns, told the Belgian sports channel Sporza.

Such stamina would have made Evenepoel ideally suited to a career in football, but he decided that the his father Patrick was right, and that his attributes were even more perfectly suited to becoming a professional cyclist.

Shooting star

His entry was comet-like: he won 34 of his first 44 races. At the Junior World Championships in Innsbruck, he eclipsed his opponent despite a fall, and upon that triumph, his self-confidence shone through. Borrowing a goal celebration of football star Cristiano Ronaldo, he would grab his chin and play with the imaginary goatee. The message: I am the "Goat", the greatest of all time. Pretty cheeky for a young athlete who later explained the celebration was a friendly bet with a friend.

There is still a long way to go before Evenepoel is comparable to the great Eddy Merckx, but he is focused on rising to the top and doing things his own way. "I do not like being called a new Merckx," the 19-year-old said. "Everything is different nowadays and no driver is like another, I'm not the new Merckx, I'm the new Everepoel."