In a candid revelation, Belgian cycling sensation Remco Evenepoel opened up about the "frustrations and clashes" he faced during the closing stages of the 2023 season. The backdrop to his struggles was the swirling rumors of Jumbo-Visma's unsuccessful partial acquisition of Soudal-QuickStep.
Evenepoel's achievements were recognized as he clinched the 'Crystal Bike' award for the third time, an accolade presented by Het Laatste Nieuws, celebrating him as 2023's top male Belgian cyclist. This marked his second consecutive win.
Post-award ceremony, Evenepoel spoke to Sporza, shedding light on the challenges he and his team confronted. "I had hoped for a peaceful three-week preparation for Il Lombardia. However, the merger speculations in late September disrupted that," he remarked. Evenepoel emphasized that such rumors didn't emerge from thin air, hinting at some truth behind them. Yet, he remained largely in the dark, stating, "I was often the last to know."
The persistent "storm" of speculation, especially during the Vuelta a España, suggested Evenepoel's potential exit from Soudal-QuickStep. He commented, "This period was marked by tensions and occasional conflicts. It's crucial for everyone to understand this context as we move into the next year."
Merger Uncertainty Resolved
Post the Vuelta, reports emerged of Evenepoel, along with some Soudal-QuickStep teammates, transitioning to Jumbo-Visma. This move would have significantly bolstered the Dutch team. However, the merger fell through, ensuring Soudal-QuickStep's continuity till 2025 under the leadership of Patrick Lefevere and Zdenek Bakala.
Reflecting on the uncertainty, Evenepoel said, "It was unsettling. Representing Soudal-QuickStep, yet unsure about the future." He expressed relief post the Il Lombardia, confirming his continued association with the team.
Despite the challenges, including a COVID-19 diagnosis during the Giro d'Italia and a setback at the Col du Tourmalet, Evenepoel's 2023 was impressive. His victories spanned from Liège-Bastogne-Liège to the World Championships time trial. However, he admitted to not being "100% prepared" post-Giro.
Looking ahead, Evenepoel's 2024 focus is clear: the Tour de France. He aspires for a stage win and aims to compete with cycling giants like Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar. "By the time we reach Nice, the 2024 Tour's finale, we'll see where I stand," he concluded.