Renowned Belgian cyclist Remco Evenepoel has voiced his reservations regarding the inclusion of gravel roads in the upcoming 2024 Tour de France route. His apprehensions align with those expressed by his team manager at Soudal-QuickStep, Patrick Lefevere, following the recent route presentation in Paris.
Stage 9 of the 2024 Tour is poised to challenge riders with a daunting 32.2 kilometers of gravel roads, distributed across 14 sections, as part of the 199-kilometer stage around Troyes. This stage is anticipated to be a pivotal moment in the entire race.
Evenepoel's previous encounter with gravel roads in a Grand Tour, during the 2021 Giro d’Italia, resulted in an unfortunate loss of over two minutes. He faced a similar setback when he conceded the overall lead in the 2022 Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana on a gravel section.
In an interview with Het Laatste Nieuws, Evenepoel questioned the suitability of gravel roads for the Tour de France, stating, "Separate events and championships for gravel are already being organized. Should gravel sections like that absolutely still be included in a Grand Tour or in other, normal, races? I don't really think it's necessary”.
Gravel Debate Continues
Evenepoel's concerns are echoed by other prominent figures in the cycling world, including Jumbo-Visma team boss Richard Plugge, who believes that including gravel sectors increases the risk of bad luck and doesn't contribute to fair competition.
Despite his past challenges on gravel, Evenepoel has voluntarily raced on such surfaces, including the Belgian Waffle Ride in Kansas in 2021. He also highlighted that he occasionally includes gravel roads in his training rides in Belgium, where the terrain permits.
Looking ahead, Evenepoel is anticipated to make his Tour de France debut in 2024, a route that boasts approximately 59 kilometers of time trialing. However, he has also contemplated returning to the Giro d’Italia, a decision that Lefevere advises against, particularly in light of Evenepoel's ambitions at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Lefevere cautioned, "He still has an account open with the Giro and he was considering combining the Tour and the Giro. But with what comes next, with the Olympic Games, for example, the Giro-Tour combination does not seem to be the best idea to me." As the debate over the inclusion of gravel roads in the Tour de France continues, riders and teams are weighing the potential challenges and impact on the race's outcome. The cycling world will be watching closely as plans for the 2024 Tour de France develop further.