Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck–Quickstep) would be viewed as the “King of Belgium” if he was to pull off a miracle comeback and win the Giro d’Italia, according to Eurosport expert Sean Kelly.
Evenepoel is just 11 seconds adrift of the maglia rosa after the first week, despite making his first competitive outing in Italy since a horror crash at Il Lombardia in October last year.
The 21-year-old fractured his pelvis after tumbling over a wall, fuelling fears it would take him much longer to fulfil his dizzying potential.
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He was only cleared to return to training in February but has made an instant impact on his comeback, fuelling hopes he could win his debut Grand Tour.
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And Kelly, a fluent Flemish speaker who once lived in Belgium, said the reaction would be “totally crazy” in his home country if he pulled it off.
“He is thinking of trying to do a real good ride in this Giro,” Kelly said on Eurosport commentary during Stage 7.
“If he can do something like a podium place or top five, that would be a super performance but if he does better than that, and if he goes on to challenge or even win this race, the Belgians my god will be totally crazy.
The reaction will be huge.
“Remco Evenepoel is already a huge name but this will make him the King of Belgium.”
Johan De Muynck was the last Belgian to win the Giro in 1978.
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‘If it’s 1st, 7th or 20th, it will all be OK’
Evenepoel arrived as Deceuninck joint-leader alongside Joao Almeida, but has since established himself as the team’s star rider and impressed again in the mountains on Stage 6.
“I lost quite some weight for the mountains so that’s an advantage,” said Evenepoel.
“But it’s still a long way to go and I don’t know how my body will react in the second and third week, but so far, I’m really happy.
“I think with our team we can start to dream: we all have one goal and that is to do the best place in the GC with me as possible. If it’s 1st, 7th or 20th, it will all be OK but if we can end this Giro with a good feeling and a great team performance that’s the best for us.
“After such a brutal and cruel stage yesterday, I didn’t expect to perform that well in the final as I don’t really like the rain. But everyone was suffering and I feel really happy with the team, everyone is performing well.”
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