Remco Evenepoel responds to criticism of Eddy Merckx with enormous teamwork at Worlds

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The great Eddy Merckx questioned the presence of Remco Evenepoel in the Belgian selection for the 2021 World Road Championships, claiming that if Belgium were to run with a single leader in the elite men’s road race, Evenepoel should not have been selected.

Evenepoel was obviously not happy with the reviews, saying it wasn’t the first time the all-time greats had criticized him ahead of a big race. The 21-year-old has said he regrets that Merckx doesn’t respect him as much as he respects Merckx.

Evenepoel’s splendid team performance on Sunday swept away any possibility of criticism, as he was the perfect team-mate for Wout van Aert. When asked after the race if this was a response to his criticisms, Evenepoel felt an apology was appropriate, “but it’s not for me to apologize,” Evenepoel said shortly after finishing the Worlds and entering the mixed zone.

“It was a special race. One of the most spectacular races of the year if you see how far the race started. There were still five hours to run. Again, those five hours have passed in a flash. It was unbelievable. I didn’t feel my legs walking through the crowd. It was a unique experience, ”Evenepoel said.

“We had a perfect race as a team. It’s just the result that is not as we expected. It’s a shame Wout didn’t have that extra touch he still had in the Tour of Britain. There is not much to regret because he was where he needed to be. Jasper is fourth. It’s a shame that we missed a medal and that we do not take back the jersey despite the race we have covered.

Evenepoel was still present on Sunday. He seemed to react to every move, featured in two big breakaway groups and survived selection on the toughest climbs to place in the top group of 17 riders just under 50km from the finish. He continued to work hard and only sat down entering the local laps in Leuven, 26km from the finish, delivering compatriots Wout van Aert and Jasper Stuyven in a strong position to fight for the jersey Rainbow.

“The French seemed to come up with a clear plan and that was to get rid of Wout. That’s what they did from the start. We didn’t want to start the race from so far away. We have responded to movements from other countries. Before the race we knew we had to join a movement that included men from France, Denmark and Italy. Only one team was absent from the start and that was Italy. I was in a good position and maybe I was the first to react, “said Evenepoel.

“On two occasions I managed to get in the breakaway which put Wout and Jasper behind us in a comfortable position. Then they joined us from behind which was a perfect scenario. Wout came over to us. me and asked me to impose a tough pace towards the Smeysberg which I did. I had a hard time staying with the group on the climb but I held on. Then it was up to me to go full speed and empty myself on the way back to Leuven. That’s what I did. All the riders in this group of 17 riders were expected at the start and were able to win. We were there with the three riders who had to to be there, it was a good scenario for us.

“By the end of the race, the legs are talking and mine were dead, just like Jasper and Wout’s, I guess. It was the man with the best legs who went to victory. If you end up solo on a course like this, it’s clear [Julian Alaphilippe] was the strongest. We knew it would be good. He was already good on the Tour of Britain and we knew he would be even better a week later. He is a runner with a lot of class.

Evenepoel will now turn his attention to Italian races in the latter part of his season. He will participate in Il Lombardia, a race in which he crashed last year while in the leading group, suffering from a serious knee injury.

“First I ride the Giro dell’Emilia. The races in Italy have courses that suit me much better than the course of this world championship race. We are leaving for Italy with the World Champion in our ranks. There will be some stronger guys in the roster who have shown they are doing well.

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