Giro d'Italia 2021 cycling news - Can much-hyped Remco Evenepoel really win the Giro this year?
The Remco Evenepoel hype train rumbles on, even in spite of his recent comments to the effect that he and the team will be taking the Giro d'Italia "day by day". Bookies still rate him with a podium chance, despite not having raced since August – and having recovered from an extremely serious injury in the interim.
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The world of cycling has been wrapped up for a couple of years in the hype surrounding a super-generation of young talents, who have turned the sporting paradigm on its head. You’re not supposed to start winning big bike races until you’ve put in a few years' graft getting your head kicked in by seasoned WorldTour pros – but the likes of Egan Bernal, Tadej Pogačar and Tom Pidcock have all flipped that on its head, winning almost immediately, and in most cases, winning big.
Another rider in this generation of talents is Remco Evenepoel, who perhaps shoulders even more of a hype burden than the others because of where he comes from. Indeed, being known as the ‘next Merckx’ in a country as cycling-crazed as Belgium is a real weight to bear.
This week, ahead of his maiden Grand Tour, Evenepoel told press: "I’m happy to race again after such a long period, during which I worked hard to be ready for my first Grand Tour.
"Being my first race since last August means that we’ll need to see how my body will react. We will take it day by day and see how things go. The most important thing is that I am back with my teammates and staff again, which makes me very happy.”
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Despite neatly avoiding any talk of GC ambitions, the idea that Evenepoel might win the Giro persists. He is ranked third favourite for the maglia rosa behind Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange).
So what can Evenepoel realistically do at the Giro this year?
The first consideration is the young rider’s injury, sustained at Il Lombardia last August. It would be simply superhuman to recover from such a long layoff and come back and win a Grand Tour.
Along similar lines, it is extremely rare - and unheard of among these new phenoms – to win a Grand Tour on one’s first attempt. Bernal had ridden the 2018 Tour before winning in ’19, while Pogačar had La Vuelta ’19 in his legs before his triumphant exploits in Le Tour 2020.
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Finally, there is the question of Evenepoel’s team dynamic. Last year Joao Almeida made an excellent fist of fighting for pink after being drafted in late as his team’s de facto leader when Evenepoel was ruled out by the Lombardia crash. He will not be wild about the idea of ceding the top dog spot to Evenepoel, now he has proven he can be in the mix.
Deceuninck, generally, is also a team that prioritises winning stages over serious GC campaigns. How often have we seen their lone GC leader clinging onto the coattails of the group of favourites while somewhere down the mountain, his stage-hunting teammates rest up with a view to taking more wins later in the race?
Will this mindset continue at the Giro? If Evenepoel is to try and win the Giro you would think he’d need some help. Luckily he has James Knox in the team, who will be an able lieutenant in the mountains. It’s been called the strongest GC team in the franchise’s history, but being brutally honest, that doesn’t say all that much.
And then there is the counterpoint to all of this realism; the sheer romance of Evenepoel. He is a rider that excites every time he races. A rider who won all four of the stage races he competed in last year, a TT engine powerful enough to win silver at Worlds aged just 19. We live in an age of magic, a new era of remarkable performances, if anyone can win the Giro in spite of all the obstacles mentioned above, it is Evenepoel.