Rohan Dennis the man for now, but Remco Evenepoel shows he is cycling’s future at Yorkshire 2019
Life could have turned out so very differently for Remco Evenepoel.
His entire youth was spent in the academies of some of the biggest football clubs in northern Europe; Anderlecht and PSV Eindhoven. He even made four appearances for Belgium’s schoolboys.
He could have been the next Kevin De Bruyne.
Instead he might be the next Eddie Merckx.
Because by the turn of 2017, with his frustrations growing in football, Evenepoel turned his attentions to cycling.
And how cycling should rejoice.
For in the last two and a half years Evenepoel has risen from nowhere to become the second fastest time-trial road cyclist in the world.
That accolade he achieved yesterday in Yorkshire, the 19-year-old finishing one minute and eight seconds behind Rohan Dennis, the seasoned Grand Tour rider from Australia who was winning the UCI Road World Championship men’s time-trial for the second successive year.
Dennis obliterated the field in the 54km ride from Northallerton to Harrogate, rubber-stamping his status as the premier rider against the clock over the second half of this decade.
But with Evenepoel rising rapidly, a changing of the guard is in the offing.
To put yesterday’s result into context, Dennis’s first time-trial title in Innsbruck last year came just two days after Evenepoel had won the junior time-trial. This is his first world championship at senior level.
And it came just under three years since he switched sports.
Playing football meant Evenepoel had to rely on others to meet his standards – coaches on the Belgian team told The Yorkshire Post – and when they couldn’t be met, he turned to an individual sport like cycling where his focus and individual mindset could be satisfied.
“I just wasn’t having fun any more,” said Evenepoel of his footballing days.
“On the bike I’m having fun and it’s important in life to have fun.”
He is doing more than that. Already signed by World Tour team Deceuninck QuickStep and under the tutelage of renowned cycling manager Patrick Lefevere, Evenepoel’s stock can only continue to climb.
“I’ve changed a lot as a person over the last year. I’ve won five races as a pro and become European champion in time-trial,” he said. “I’m growing stronger as a person and as an athlete.
“I really didn’t believe I could do this in my first year as a pro. But I surprised myself today. This silver feels like a gold to me.”
Certainly he has caught the eye of the men he beat, including Alex Dowsett, the British rider who was delighted himself to finish fifth.
“He is phenomenal,” said Dowsett. “You take his age out of the picture, the races he’s won in the last couple of months – San Sebastian, the Europeans and the Tour of Belgium, those are three completely different races that should have been won by three completely different typres of riders. He’s pretty special.”
Dowsett also had praise for the route, one that is not as mountainous as grand tour time-trials have become in recent years.
“It’s a brilliant course,” said the 30-year-old.
“A tale of three sections – sort of flat to start where you can settle in while trying not to burn all your matches and overcook yourself.
“And then the middle section was really on and off, more so than I anticipated, so I made a good job of that. That’s where I was good.”
No one though was better than Dennis, a rider who has not competed since abandoning the Tour de France in a haze of frustration at his own performance and his relationship with his team, Bahrain-Merida.
But against the clock there is no one better and so he proved again, passing title rival and recent Vuelta Espana winner Primoz Roglic on the final climb up Parliament Street, the Slovenian having set off on a warm but breezy Yorkshire afternoon three minutes before him.
“It’s the biggest win of my career to be honest with you,” said Dennis, who embraced his wife and infant child shortly after the finish in Harrogate.
“It’s been tough, but all the hard work and all the hard times have been worth it, so I’m very very happy.
“There’s been a lot of work done off the bike mentally to get prepared just to line up here, let alone win”
On the ride itself, Dennis – who stopped the clock at one hour 5.05 minutes – said: “I knew I was on a good one.
“I was comfortable with the pace I was setting, but you just never know until you get that first time check and I was 20 seconds up thinking ‘I’ve still got more to give, so that’s good’ and then we had another time check along the road and I was 57 seconds up and I thought ‘there’s not much time where they can really take it out of me’ so I just have to stay calm, don’t take risks.”
He may need to in future though, to keep Evenepoel at bay.
“There’s a new age coming through,” said the champion. “It’s always good to have guys nipping at your heels.
“But I’m here to stay. I’m not going anywhere.”