‘Who the flip does think he is?’ 

Is what no one in the Vuelta’s GC leaders group said – out loud anyway – when the 23 year old Remco  Evenepoel ordered his Soudal Quickstep teammates to block the road on the way to the finish line on Stage 11.

At first I presumed it must have a been a decision by all the teams with riders in the top ten, and that for sure Jumbo Visma would have agreed to it. I figured the riders were protesting about – well, take your pick, this incredibly poorly organised Vuelta has been run about as well as a Girl Guides’ Cake Drive for Satan – but maybe it was because of the mess with the flights before the rest day, that saw one plane load of riders and get detoured due to bad weather and get to their hotels very early in the morning.

But no. This was Remco’s move. Jonas Vingegaard expressed mild surprise at the fact that Remco didn’t attack in the final kilometres. 

‘I thought they would have gone for it, but that’s their choice, their tactics. We didn’t want to go for it so for us it was fine.’ 

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Upon hearing that, Remco let out a wry smile and said :’We were in the front and some of our guys started to set the pace and I said to them to slow down because it’s not up to us to take the race in our hands. Maybe they were a little too excited today but in the end they listened to me and we really calmed it down. 

‘I’m not gonna attack on every climb, it’s still a super long Vuelta. I don’t need to attack every time.’

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Fair enough, but, Remco and his team actually did take the race in their hands by blocking the road. And there again comes that question…

Who does he think he is? 

Moreover, who do the rest of the peloton think he is? It helps of course that the one truly dominant team in the world right now have about as much personality as a bowl of cold custard. You’re not likely to hear them question Remco’s stepping in to the role of the boss of the pack.

No one else, to my knowledge, piped up either. Maybe they did on the team bus, but not to the press. I’ll bet there were one or two raised eyebrows and a few ‘WTF’s in French and Spanish. 

With the break already home and no stage win up for grabs you can understand most of the peloton being ok with trundling in – but if you weren’t? What kind of a precedent does that set? 

What is obvious is that we can see, over the course of this Vuelta,  Remco stepping in to fill a position that has been vacant for well over a decade at least. I can’t think now a single rider that would, with just a few kilometres to go to a summit finish at a Grand Tour, have the cojones to line his team up so that no others could attack. 

You have to go back to the days of Hinault to find a rider who truly encapsulated what the role of patron means. Remco’s road-blocking move hinted at the power he has somehow accrued at this young age and which seems to be in blossom at this Vuelta. We have to note again that there is almost a total vacuum in regards to one central leader of the peloton, which is why I think Remco is being allowed free reign – if there was an Hinault around alrwady, Remco’s actions would likely have drawn a strong reaction.

Yet I have to admire a rider doing that, especially one who is not even in the leader’s jersey. 

I mean, can you imagine Roglic pulling that off? Or Vingegaard? 

I don’t think even VDP or WVA could do that – you kind of need to be a Grand Tour winner to have that kind of weight. 

I was also impressed by his comments when he spoke out after the disastrous and quite frankly ridiculous first stage, the TTT that saw half the peloton ride through Barcelona in pouring rain and in the dark. 

If only they’d have packed their night goggles. 

I’ll bet Dave Brailsford was tut-tutting as he watched on from the comfort of home, a couple of boxes of Team Sky branded night goggles sat in his garage that were never used but just in case…

“This was shit, we couldn’t see anything. We didn’t see anything in the small streets in the city.” Remco said afterwards. “We went super carefully in the corners because we’re here for a classification. You don’t want to fall on day one.”

What were the organisers thinking? 

“You know it’s going to be dark, right? You can’t do anything about the rain, but you can do something about the lighting. This was life-threatening. It was life and death in the wheel,” he said. “You want to win, so we’re already taking risks. But if it’s also wet and dark, it becomes risky. This is just ridiculous. The organization must think about safety. This is a real shame for such a beautiful race as the Vuelta.”

Then, to add injury to insult, he collided with a soigneur just after he won on Stage 3, causing more vitriol to spill. 

”Yeah, nice [win] but again, some things of safety, [the crash] was only 50 metres after the finish line. It’s already the third stage in a row with safety concerns, it’s a bit breaking my balls now.”

I’m going to recycle that line, ’It’s a bit breaking my balls now.

Then there was the Stage 8, which Roglic won by a bike length from Remco. Whilst Roglic was ‘thrilled’ to have won, there was Evenepoel straight after the stage saying that Roglic wasn’t the fastest on the day. 

“I really believe I could have won, but the thing is I thought there was still a rider in front,” the Belgian said. 

Which really is quite amusing.

The next day saw the breakaway fight it out to the actual finish line which was said to be muddy and we all know how tetchy these pro mechanics get when a dirty bike comes rolling into their area post-race. And so the organisers made like a souffle that’s had the oven door opened too early and ‘decided’ (made to, more like) that the GC guys’ race would be over some kilometres before the designated, actual, as in real, finish line.

Were they fearful of another tongue lashing from the Belgian champion?

In a word, yes. They could take it from the breakaway guys, no worries, they’re not that famous, but Mr. Evenepoel, his words sing out around the world. 

Evenepoel has a confidence when in front of the cameras that belies his age, and I get the feeling that he is one of those people who really – really – do not care what anyone else thinks of them. It’s the same air Hinault had about him. 

In this sense he appears to be a man, even at 23, who is from another time, reminiscent of another era. When he speaks to a journalist it is as if he is speaking to just that one person and not aware, or bothered, that his words are being relayed almost instantly to all coners, to be reviewed and poured over on social media later. 

He just doesn’t give a fuck, that’s about as basic as I can put it. 

It’s just a scratch mate…

What is interesting is that no one was exactly waiting around for a patron to appear, and by and large the pelota has gotten on fine without one for years. 

Rather, he’s just taken that role, recreated it almost – at least in this race. His rainbow stripes, a 2022 Vuelta title and a classic win at Liege go a long way to affording him leeway in the pack, and certainly his peers respect and also fear him – and some may not even fully understand why. 

He’s the kind of rider who can rip your legs off in a race and probably do the same to your head in a hotel car park. Put a pedal wrong and a glare from him would likely freeze the liquid in a bidon. 

When he first appeared on the scene I thought he was just over-the-top arrogant, but now I can see the steel beneath – and this steel is real.

He is arrogant, but with good reason.

Eurosport’ Dan Lloyd described his win on Stage 3 as the “ride of a champion”.

“He was glued to both of them [Vingegaard and Roglic]. When they drifted to the back, he was also at the back, and he has also showed maturity over the last year or two.

“When he won the Vuelta, we already saw it. When he was dropped by Roglic his head dropped, and then he said ‘no, I’ve got to limit my losses’.

“He’s progressed this year. Three years ago Remco Evenepoel would have attacked with four, five, six kilometres to go, trying to ride everybody off his wheel.

“Today he just sat in, he watched everyone, looked incredibly comfortable. The way he sprinted in meant he was comfortable, to be able to go that fast. Only by a second but that was a real statement at the finish.

“It was the ride of a champion, and the ride of someone who is not going to let the fight come to him, but is going to take it to the others.”

So, who does this Remco think he is? 

The Boss, that’s who. 

Now he has to back it up.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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