Race Breakdown: Remco Evenepoel’s impressive solo win on Sunday at Liège–Bastogne–Liège opened the 22-year-olds Monument account, but in some ways, this performance has me more confused than ever about what type of rider he can/should be going forward.
Evenepoel’s stunning ride to Liège
His win on Sunday indicates he can win the biggest one-day races on the calendar, his talent profile (elite time trialing and extremely lightweight) leans more towards stage races. However, while he has won 8 stage races so far in his career, only one was at a WorldTour level (2020 Tour of Poland), they all lacked true high alpine climbs and the competition wasn’t at the highest level. For example, the total number of grand tour podiums compiled by the riders who finished second place in those races is 1 (Mikel Landa 2015 Vuelta a España).
If we look at his ‘major’ stage race results throughout his career, the highlight is 4th place in this year’s Tour of the Basque Country.
Major Stage Race Results
The main reason so far for his lack of true top stage racing results has been his inability to hang on successive difficult climbs, which is odd considering that judging by his time trialing ability, his sustained power is world-class, and at his race weight of just 60 kilograms (although he’s been racing at closer to 66kgs so far this Spring), he should have an elite power to weight ratio. This should, in theory, produce a nearly unbeatable GC contender, but in practice, at least so far, this hasn’t been the case. Two potential explanations are that he is simply on the wrong team (QuickStep is one of the worst stage racing teams in the peloton) and that his reliance on his extreme aerodynamic advantage means his performance relative to the rest at higher speeds can never be matched at the lower speeds of long, sustained climbs.
Evenepoel has to win solo
On the flip side, on paper, Evenepoel makes a horrible one-day contender due to his lack of sprint, meaning he has to win every race solo, which is an extremely difficult way to win one-day races consistently against top competition. However, when we look at his results at ‘major’ one-day races, despite his sprinting limitations, his palmares are much more impressive than his stage racing result.
Major One-Day Results
This presents a fairly compelling case that Evenepoel should simply focus on one-day races and difficult stage races (a la Julian Alaphilippe) for the remainder of his career. But, even though the higher speeds of one-day classics suit his aero road racing style, in my mind, this would be a mistake. Nearly every top one-day rider has the ability to win from reduced bunch sprints, and we’ve seen other riders without quick finishes like Tiesj Benoot struggle to repeat major one-day wins due to this and Evenepoel lacks the descending ability that allows Matej Mohorič to rack up a significant portion of his major wins (Benoot has only two pro wins since his 2016 Strade Bianche victory).
Evenepoel – Top lead-out man in the Basque Country
Furthermore, one of the major reasons for Evenepoel’s underperformance at stage races so far in his career is his Quick-Step team, whose DNA doesn’t lend itself to winning multi-day races (they have only a single major stage race win in their nearly 20-year history). For example, at the recent Tour of the Basque Country, Evenepoel was used as a leadout man for Alaphilippe in the opening stages, only to find himself missing just a little bit of energy to seal the overall win on the race’s final climb. This leaves almost irrefutable evidence that to fulfill his potential as a top-tier GC contender and avoid becoming a misplaced one-day specialist, Evenepoel will need to leave his Quick-Step team.
Is Remco Evenepoel a GT winner?
While he could have a fine career as a one-day/stage-hunting rider who racks up a few major wins with daring and impressive attacks, this type of career would almost certainly be seen as a disappointment compared to his current status in the sport, and more importantly, would fail to allow him to fully tap his natural stage racing talents that could see him become Belgium’s first Grand Tour winner since 1978.
Two stage wins for Ethan Hayter
A Few Takeaways from Tour de Romandie Stages 1-2:
1) Dylan Teuns is on fire
- The Belgian’s performance to mow down a super fit Rohan Dennis on the opening road stage at Romandie shows that he is really rolling after his win at last week’s La Flèche Wallonne and his 6th place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
- With these performances in mind, I would keep an eye on him as a serious stage hunter in the upcoming grand tours.
Close finalé on stage 1
2) This week is potentially career-defining for Rohan Dennis
- Dennis appeared to be riding to the overall win at the 2021 edition of this race until he crashed on stage 3 and fell out of contention.
- Despite being a world-class time trialist and a fantastic climber (has all-time fastest time up the Stelvio), he has never been able to put everything together and win a major European stage race.
- At 31-years-old, he is both becoming less competitive in top time trials and running out of time to make his mark in stage races.
- An overall win here would be both a big standalone victory and go a long way towards proving to his Jumbo team that he is a viable GC option.
Rohan Dennis in the Romandie leader’s jersey
3) After two seasons in the wilderness, Marc Hirschi is back
- After a late start to the season, the 23-year-old Swiss finished an impressive 3rd place on stage 1.
- While he has struggled to match the form he had during his breakout 2020 season due to a series of off-season medical issues, since coming back from hip surgery in late March, he has completed 13 mass-start races and finished top ten in 9 of them, giving him a staggering 70% top-ten rate.
- His pair of 9th places at Amstel and Liège stick out as the most impressive and combined with his consistency, have signaled that Hirschi could finally be back.
Marc Hirschi is back, and close to the win
4) We still have no idea what Ethan Hayter is capable of
- The 23-year-old Ineos prospect, with wins in the prologue and stage 2, has won two out of the three stages at Romandie, and is further proving that he has nearly limitless potential due to his combination of elite time trialing, sprinting and climbing ability.
- On paper, this should make him the next Eddy Merckx (or Tadej Pogacar), but a key tool missing from his quiver has been the ability to put it all together in stage races. And so far, Romandie further added proof to this.
- But, while he was leading the race on stage 1 and his Ineos team was riding on the front, he was left struggling at the back of the pack. I imagine this is a positioning/confidence issue since he proved by winning the prologue that he is clearly in top shape.
- It is interesting that while Hayter, the race leader, was riding so far in the rear, his team was setting an all-day tough pace on the front. This is a bit strange from Ineos since it doesn’t put him in the best position to develop his GC skills.
- Another notable choice was that nobody from his Ineos team went back to attempt to pace him back onto the pack after his crash. And while this might have been impossible given the point of the race and the pace, their priorities were shown by the fact that they were the ones driving the hard pace, and didn’t let up even after Hayter’s crash.
- But perhaps with two wins already (prologue and sprint on stage 2), Hayter has gotten everything he wants from this event, and learning the GC ropes isn’t a high priority for him or the team at the moment (this would be somewhat odd due to the team’s need for fresh GC talent).
Hayter got it right on stage 2
5) Geraint Thomas is auditioning for Tour de France leadership
- A major benefactor of Ineos’ decision to leave Hayter behind after his crash on stage 1 is Geraint Thomas. The 35-year-old Tour de France winner has been sidelined at the superteam over the past 12 months, but currently sits within striking distance of the Romandie overall lead amidst a field of extremely unproven stage racing contenders (his deficit was stretched out to 36-seconds from a much more manageable 16 due to his team’s bottle error).
- It will be more difficult now with the time penalty, but if he can win Romandie for the second-consecutive year, Thomas could start to raise some noise that he deserves leadership at the summer’s Tour de France.
Does Geraint Thomas know the right direction?
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #