Pogacar beyond reach says Tour de France rookie Evenepoel

Evenepoel winning the Vuelta (OSCAR DEL POZO)
Evenepoel winning the Vuelta (OSCAR DEL POZO)

World time-trial champion Remco Evenepoel opens his first Tour de France campaign this weekend with modest expectations, he told press in Florence on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old former world road race champion and Vuelta a Espana winner was once the wonderkid of cycling, and he now appears fully back on track after putting a plunge into a ravine behind him.

The Soudal Quick-Step rider has been billed as one of the favourites to win the Tour, or at least to take the best young rider's jersey.

He told press that he would be taking things day-by-day and hoped to peak in the second week of racing and also that he was far from favourite.

"I expect Tadej (Pogacar) to be almost unattainable," Evenepoel said.

"What he showed at the Giro was impressive without even having to dig deep into his reserves. He will be the man to beat in the Tour de France."

The all-rounder Evenepoel said he was delighted to be racing in Italy but that the terrain was not his favourite to race on.

"Stages one to four are very difficult," he said of the challenging opening part of the tour in Italy -- which sets off from Florence on June 29.

"I hope to build on this first week to progress and reach my peak form during the second weekend as we approach the third week."

In 2021, Evenepoel was in relentless form until he plunged 10 metres into a ravine during a one-day classic in Italy, the Tour of Lombardy.

He shook off a broken pelvis and months in hospital to win the world title and the Vuelta in 2022 and claiming the world cyclist of the year award.

Evenepoel is joined in the Quick Step team by compatriots Louis Vervaeke, Yves Lampaert and Ilan Van Wilder as well as Italian Gianni Moscon and Dane Casper Pedersen.

Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe misses out to focus on the Paris Olympics.

- Former footballer -

Evenepoel was born in January 2000 in Aalst in the Flanders region but despite the fact his father rode as a professional cyclist, young Remco favoured football.

He was on the books at Anderlecht and then PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands and played for Belgium at under-16 level.

Evenepoel would later say he was distraught when Anderlecht sold him, but he did not dwell on it for too long.

Barely a year later, he was double world cycling champion at junior level, winning the time-trial and road race, and had a contract with Belgian cycling giant Quick Step.

There was immediately talk of the new Eddy Merckx, which he brushed aside.

"I don't want to be called the new Merckx. I'm the new me," insists Evenepoel.